If there is a bright spot to be drawn from Nova Scotia Health’s latest update on reversing a provincewide primary care shortage, it is this: While a net of 2,741 more Nova Scotians joined the growing waitlist for a family doctor or nurse practitioner in April, the pace of that list’s growth—for one month, at least—appears to be slowing. As for any other good news? Well, it ends just about there.
As of May 1, there are 145,003 Nova Scotians on the province’s Need a Family Practice Registry—or about 14.6% of the population. That’s a 1.9% increase from April 1—which is the smallest month-over-month increase in the last calendar year. Until Nova Scotia Health’s most recent update, the province hadn’t seen its waitlist grow by fewer than 3,000 people in a month since June 2022.
Relief in some corners of Nova Scotia, but waitlist growing in HRM
There are signs of progress if you look outside of the HRM. Eleven of Nova Scotia’s 54 “community clusters” saw a net decrease in the number of residents waiting for primary care. Nowhere was that more significant than in Liverpool, where 323 of the region’s waitlisted residents were linked with a family doctor or nurse practitioner last month alone. Antigonish saw a similar drop in its waitlist, with 127 people coming off the list since April 1, 2023.
But the primary care shortage remains an uphill battle in Halifax. More than 64,000 people living in the HRM are looking for a family doctor or nurse practitioner as of May 1—just shy of 14% of the region’s population.
Province seeks to attract more doctors
As the province’s primary care waitlist grows, Nova Scotia’s government has been looking for ways to lure more doctors to the province. Part of that plan has involved eliminating barriers to foreign-trained doctors who wish to practice here. As of March, the regulatory body overseeing physicians and surgeons in Nova Scotia says US-trained doctors no longer need to write an exam to work in Nova Scotia. That marks a first for any province in Canada.
“The most important thing to be stressed here,” Dr. Gus Grant, CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, told Global News in March, “this is a decision made in the public interest.”
In February, the physician-licensing bodies of Canada’s four Atlantic provinces also agreed to create a shared registry, meaning doctors in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador can practice in any of the Atlantic provinces, as long as they hold a license in one of them.
The Coast has not been able to obtain numbers to show how many US-trained doctors, if any, have since started working in Nova Scotia, nor how many physicians from other Atlantic provinces have since taken on work in Nova Scotia. Speaking with CBC News in February, Grant said the impact of the latter “remains to be seen,” but he imagines it could be an attractive option for early-career physicians or those who value travel.
“There's a fair number of physicians, particularly young physicians, who fancy locums, doing locum work and moving about," he said. "So I think for a number of physicians this will be an added benefit."
Weekend mobile clinic and expanded pharmacy services
Nova Scotia Health is running two days of drop-in clinics at the Cobequid Community Health Centre (40 Freer Lane) this weekend. Health-care providers will be seeing patients from 9am to 4:20pm on both Saturday and Sunday for prescription renewals (except for controlled substances), sore throats, fevers, earaches, muscle pain, rashes and minor gastrointestinal issues.
On Thursday, the province also announced that Haligonians can receive point-of-care testing for strep, RSV and the flu at the newly opened Pharmacy Walk-In Clinic+ at the Lawtons Drugs in Bedford’s Mill Cove Plaza.