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EDITORIAL: Pledge doesn’t fill much of the gap


A key promise of the provincial Liberals when they were first elected in 2013 was that they would fix the doctor shortage in Nova Scotia in their first mandate.

Failing to do so was a shortcoming often highlighted in the follow-up election campaign earlier this year, in which the party squeaked in again with a modest majority. They said at that time the problem was not an easy fix and would take more time.

Fair enough – it has proven, indeed, not to be an easy fix, and many will agree with that assessment. But the McNeil government will have to make significant headway on that front this time around because the serious doctor shortage is on everyone’s minds.

The provincial budget, as released Wednesday, does direct a small increase in funding toward health care and includes a number of initiatives that those who benefit will welcome.

But in a province where statistics earlier this year showed that 11 per cent of residents don’t have a regular physician, there’s a lot of ground to make up.

On that precarious issue, the budget has earmarked $2.4 million toward recruitment and retention of doctors. That money includes 10 new places in the family residency program at Dalhousie University and opens 10 new spaces in a program that assists international doctors in establishing practices.

That sounds like a good idea, but one that should have come during the government’s first term, as it acknowledged the shortage. It might well result in a net gain in coming years, but again, people are expecting to see results in the next year or two, if not sooner.

And it’s an area that’s certainly opened up the soft underbelly of the governing Liberals to the opposition. They will gain plenty of traction on this.

The government needs to look at health staffing strategy in place and see what’s working and what isn’t. They have to have incentives for health professionals and sufficient personnel in place in less populated areas, more focus on the collaborative care model to ensure people have access to care without running physicians ragged.

We already have concerns on the horizon affecting doctors in the proposed tax reform measures that would impact the setup of practices and their means of planning for retirement. That potentially hands the province the additional task of showing physicians that Nova Scotia can respond with supportive means.

Throwing money at an issue is never the answer. The government is maintaining a stance of fiscal responsibility, which is good, but this is an area that needs a lot more attention, and even with a budget showing a modest $21.3 million surplus, some more funding.

This is, after all, an issue of prime importance for many Nova Scotians – and a growing number considering our aging population. We need to add to the ranks of doctors before those here, already overworked, give up on the province and find an area to practice where conditions are less strained.

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