HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's persistent family doctor shortage has the province increasingly looking to provide care through collaborative practices — local teams that partner physicians with nurse practitioners, social workers and other health care professionals.
Health Minister Randy Delorey announced Thursday the creation of seven new collaborative care teams and the strengthening of 16 others across the province.
"The goal is that when you go into these clinics you are seen by the health care provider to meet your health care needs," said Delorey.
"You will see the doctor, but sometimes the needs can be met by other health care providers, which could be a nurse or a social worker in some instances."
Delorey said it is part of an ongoing $6 million commitment to create 70 teams. With the announcement there are now 57.
Depending on the practice and community, the teams are made up of various health professionals including physicians, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, social workers and dieticians.
The idea is to allow physicians to spend more time on complex cases; the teams don't even need to be located in the same building.
As part of Thursday's announcement, Delorey said a total of 39 nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, social workers, and a physiotherapist would join 23 collaborative family practice teams in 17 communities.
The new primary health care professionals include 15 nurse practitioners, 17 family practice nurses, six social workers and a part-time physiotherapist.
New teams would be established at two locations in Dartmouth, two in Kentville and North Sydney, and one in Glace Bay.
Existing teams will be expanded at two locations in Sydney and at locations in Dartmouth, Springhill, Westville, Lunenburg, and Windsor, while professionals will also be added in nine other communities.
The new hires mean 31 teams have been, or are in the process of, being created or enhanced.
Delorey was asked what went into the selection of the seven new teams.
"First of all there has to be an interest in the community," he said. "Where possible they look to align with the needs in the community as well."
Delorey said a provincial list shows about 44,000 Nova Scotians are actively seeking a family doctor, although federal statistics place that number at closer to 100,000 — including people who simply aren't looking for a doctor.
Physician retirements are also compounding the shortage. In Dartmouth, where Delorey made Thursday's announcement, about 40 per cent of doctors are due to retire within five years.
"We are certainly working hard to ensure that we meet the needs in all communities — in Dartmouth and in communities from Sydney down to Yarmouth," Delorey said. "This (collaborative practices) is one part of the initiative."
Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said collaborative practices can work, although they shouldn't be a substitute for providing every Nova Scotian with a family physician — a promise Premier Stephen McNeil made during the 2013 election campaign.
Smith-McCrossin said it's something she would fight for as Tory leader in the next election.
"Absolutely, every Nova Scotian does deserve access to a family physician. It just comes back to good care."
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press