Nova Scotia’s primary care reporting is delayed (again). Here’s why that matters. | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Premier Tim Houston campaigned on a promise to fix Nova Scotia's health-care crisis.

Nova Scotia’s primary care reporting is delayed (again). Here’s why that matters.

One in seven Nova Scotians are now on the province’s waitlist for a family doctor or nurse practitioner—and the government is lagging in its reporting.

If you have bad news to share, wait for a Friday afternoon. That tenet, if you’ve worked in newsrooms or followed corporate and government communications for any stretch of time, is well-worn and polished enough to have earned its own moniker: The “Friday afternoon news dump.” The logic behind The Dump is dead simple: Whatever egg you’re about to wear on your face—be it corporate shakeups, poorly considered presidential pardons, or political sex scandals—if you want to wear as little of the yolk as possible, it behooves you to wait until people are paying as little attention as possible. That often means the start of the weekend. Better still, the start of a weeklong holiday.

Nova Scotia Health chose last Friday afternoon—the Friday leading into the public school March Break—to share its latest report on the province’s growing primary care waitlist. According to March’s “Finding a Primary Care Provider” update, 137,587 Nova Scotians (or roughly one in seven people in our province) are now actively seeking a family doctor or nurse practitioner. It’s a list that has swelled by more than 60% in the last 12 months alone.

And while premier Tim Houston’s government has repeatedly stressed its “go like hell” approach to solving Nova Scotia’s health-care crisis, it’s falling behind in the very measures by which we can track its progress: Data reporting.

Second month of primary care waitlist report delays

Friday’s provincial update marked the second straight month that Nova Scotia’s health authority has lagged in releasing its primary care waitlist report. That’s at odds with the Houston government’s pledges to keep Nova Scotians informed of its progress on fixing the province’s health-care woes—a goal that Houston himself made the central plank of his premiership campaign in 2021.

It’s a promise that Houston’s cabinet has doubled down on since the Tories won their majority government.

“We want to be very accountable to Nova Scotians,” health minister Michelle Thompson told Haligonians at a community forum on Nov. 14, 2022. “We want to tell you how things are going—and we don't fudge the numbers.”

Part of that accountability has come in the form of Nova Scotia Health’s monthly primary care waitlist reports, which the health authority says it releases “monthly within five working days after the first of the month.” But twice now, the provincial health authority has failed to meet its five-day reporting window. Last month, the report didn’t come until February’s midpoint. This month, the report came two days after the five-day window.

In an emailed statement provided to The Coast, a Nova Scotia Health spokesperson says the most recent delay was caused by the health authority wanting “to ensure Nova Scotians had context around the registry and how and where people can get care, including updated numbers relating to VirtualCareNS”—a virtual primary care service offered to Nova Scotians currently on the waitlist—“and our mobile primary care clinics.”

click to enlarge Nova Scotia’s primary care reporting is delayed (again). Here’s why that matters.
Nova Scotia Health
Nova Scotia Health's "Finding a Primary Care Provider" reports for February and March, presented side by side.

The Coast has reviewed both February’s and March’s reports (pictured right). While the context on how and where to access care reads verbatim from one month to the next, the numbers are indeed different. Per the province’s latest primary care report, roughly 57,620 Nova Scotians have registered for VirtualCareNS, which offers patients online access to primary care providers across the province until they’re permanently placed with a primary care clinic. That’s an increase of about 2,800 Nova Scotians compared to February.

Mobile primary care clinics offered Friday and Saturday in Halifax

This week, Nova Scotia Health is offering temporary back-to-back mobile primary care clinics in Halifax’s north end. The pop-up service will run for two days at 2751 Gladstone Street on Friday, March 17 (10am-6pm) and Saturday, March 18 (9am-4pm).

“These are not drop-in clinics,” Nova Scotia Health stresses in a written release. Patients are asked to call 1-800-410-6672 to book an appointment for help with “non-urgent, low acuity” health issues.

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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