As of the first of this month 58,046 (6.3%) Nova Scotians were in search of doctor. That’s an increase of about one-tenth of a percentage point, or 1,416 people.
On the upside, it’s far better than the increase recorded on July 1 which, as they say on TV, was a “whopping” 2,483. Since then, the monthly increase has been declining steadily, so maybe that’s good news (hard to say, as I have never been “whopped”.)
The data come from the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which has been notably open about the doctor shortage. Further, the October report contains new details offering a pretty good idea of the situation where you live, based on the percentage of people there without doctors.
In the first table below, I’ve highlighted the four best performers in green, and the worst in red. The Eastern Zone has all the best — four areas where there is effectively no doctor shortage, in my view.
Liverpool is in dire straits, with 16.3% of the population (1,781 people) needing but unable to find a doctor.
As usual, about half the people without doctors (29,469) live in Metro Halifax. That’s 7.7% of the city vs. 6.3% for the province. At the bottom of this post is a Halifax-centric table sorted from the highest percentage of people without doctors to the lowest. I’ve used a seasonal orange colour to illustrate the local problem, about which our councillors and MLAs don’t seem to care.
TWO OF THE key players in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s physician recruitment efforts have left the building in the past few days.
No doubt the alarming record of the past nine months is part of the reason (see chart above).
The health authority bases its numbers of the count of doctor-less people signed on to its Need a Family Practice Registry, something it strongly encourages. This makes sense because it’s realistic — you can be sure someone who’s taken the trouble to register truly needs a doctor. By contrast, surveys will count people who shouldn’t be counted: those who don’t want a family doctor but still, truthfully, say “no” when asked if they have one. That could be why Statistics Canada always reports a higher number than NSHA.
Put another way, the steady increase in the number of people needing doctors may be a reflection of a steady increase in awareness of the registration service. Can this be an example of sound policy being bad office politics?
We’re still losing ground to the physician shortage,
HRM still watching from the sidelines
On the one hand, the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s latest stats on patients without doctors are nothing new — just another increase of a few per cent from the previous month.
On the other hand, it’s like compound interest on credit card debt. Everything seems OK until one day you’re in too deep. And so we’ve gone from 41,877 people needing a family doctor in January to 54,915 today. That’s six per cent of the population. By way of perspective, most of us would be thrilled with a six per cent return on our savings. In pre-election polls, six per cent can mean a lock on victory.
But the bad news doesn’t seem to be for lack of effort from government, which has brought in two new programs since January and made an important improvement to a third.
On the face of it, we seem to have our act together.
Since February, NS Immigration has operated a “physician stream” under the provincial immigrant nominee program.
In April, the Department of Health and Wellness launched the Patient Attachment Incentive Trust. It offers physicians a one-time incentive of $150 per head to take on additional patients. The trust brought 7,536 people in from the cold since it began in April. That’s a clear success. (But, alas, during that same period the net tally of people seeking doctors grew by 9,360.)
DHW continues to offer tuition relief, bursaries, debt assistance and a site-visit program. And these incentives now put Halifax on an equal footing with the rest of the province.
All this makes it easier for recruiters working for the health authority and the IWK Health Centre. Let’s hope the effort starts paying off.
While we’re discussing effort, I note Metro Halifax (see map) consistently represents half of the provincial shortage, so it would be nice to see HRM contribute. Queens has an attractive website aimed at physician recruitment. Why not Halifax?