NEW GLASGOW, N.S.
The Aberdeen Walk-In Clinic in New Glasgow is reopening.
Doctor Chris Elliott confirmed the decision to The News earlier this week and has submitted a letter regarding their decision to reopen with reduced hours.
Beginning Sept. 17, the clinic will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings with registration for patients starting at 4:30 p.m. and running until 8:30 p.m., although registration may end early depending on the number of patients waiting to be seen.
While the issues that existed when the doctors who own the clinic first made the decision to temporarily close beginning Aug. 5 remain, Elliott said they felt they had to do what they could to reopen.
One of their primary concerns that led to the temporary closure was difficulty in recruiting new doctors. In August, one of the doctors who regularly works at the clinic left. Another factor was the exclusion of walk-in clinics from an enhanced fee being paid to primary care physicians. They said it was difficult to recruit doctors because they were being paid less to see patients at the walk in then they were at their office.
With a high number of patients without a family doctor in Pictou County, Elliott said they were in fact providing primary care as well as follow-up for many people.
During the period they were closed, Elliott said they met with Health Minister Randy Delorey as well as staff from the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness and the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Doctors Nova Scotia to discuss their concerns.
“Unfortunately, to date, we have not come to a resolution with regards to the concerns we shared with you in our letter of July 17, 2018, including the recruitment of an additional physician,” the doctors wrote in their most recent letter. “We are, of course, disappointed, with this outcome to date and will continue to advocate to government and other stakeholders for fair and equitable compensation.”
Delorey, in response to questions from The News, emailed a statement saying: “The Aberdeen walk-in clinic is an important service and we want to see it maintained.”
He said his department will continue to work with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the clinic on possible solutions.
President of Doctors Nova Scotia Tim Holland said it’s a complex issue because walk-ins operate very differently in some parts of the province than in others.
The enhanced fees are being paid to family physicians as a result of a recent $39.6 million investment in primary care by the provincial government, he explained. Walk-ins weren’t included because they don’t always provide “comprehensive and continuous care” that the money was earmarked for.
There are exceptions to the level of care provided by walk-ins, however, including at the Aberdeen Walk-In which saw 10,000 patients in 2017 and provided referrals and follow-ups. According to data released by the Nova Scotia Health Authority on Sept. 1, 2018, there are, 2,318 people in Pictou County on the wait list for a family doctor.
“Not all walk-ins are created equal,” Holland said.
He said that Doctors Nova Scotia recognizes that in some instances, physicians working in walk-in clinics are in fact providing comprehensive and continuous care to patients without a family doctor and Doctors Nova Scotia believes they should be eligible for the enhanced rates in these instances.
Holland said he’s cautiously optimistic Doctors Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Department of Health and Wellness will be able to find a way to recognize when a walk-in is providing a comprehensive visit and compensate them accordingly.
“It’s a complex question and it’s going to require a sophisticated answer,” he said.
Long term, however, he said the problem won’t be solved until the shortage of family physicians is addressed.
He believes proper compensation is one element and said he would like to see Nova Scotia “at the top of the pack for the Atlantic provinces” when it comes to pay for doctors.
But he said it’s not all about money. He believes cutting red tape for doctors, providing them with modern technology to work with and providing better mentoring opportunities are all tools that could be used to make Nova Scotia a more attractive place for doctors to practice.