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Healthcare issues and ER closures across Nova Scotia affect the public

Over 148,000 are currently on the waitlist for a family doctor

Disclaimer: This article was updated to reflect information received between editing and publication. Changes include a statement from the Nova Scotia Minister of Health and Wellness.

Nova Scotia’s health care system continues to face serious issues as people go without family doctors and hospital wait times skyrocket. 

As of Dec. 1, 2023, over 148,000 Nova Scotians are on the province’s waitlist for a family doctor, according to the Department of Health and Wellness.

Frances Gregor, a retired nurse from Halifax, has seen changes in the system from when she worked within it.

“I haven’t been practising for a very long time. When I practised nursing it was a different world,” said Gregor.

Though Gregor retired in 2005, she has recently become increasingly concerned about the care she will receive in the current healthcare system. 

“Many people, like myself, who have just lost their family practitioner, feel anxious,” said Gregor. “You feel anxious about where you can go for attention for whatever ails you.”

Haligonian Robin McInnes described feeling uneasy about the current state of the healthcare system.

“I certainly lack confidence that I will be dealt with in the ER promptly and efficiently,” said McInnes. “Though, I think all the medical professionals are doing the best they can.”

People of all ages are being severely affected by the ER closures and lack of care. 

Allison Holthoff

On Dec. 31 2022, Allison Holthoff, a mother of three, went to Cumberland Regional Healthcare Centre in Amherst, N.S., and waited more than six hours to see a doctor.

Her condition quickly deteriorated and while waiting for tests to be performed, Holthoff had a heart attack. She died in the hospital due to complications associated with an untreated splenic aneurysm.

NS Health Care Crisis – Stories 

The NS Healthcare Crisis website is a space for people province-wide to share their stories of mistreatment and experiences in emergency rooms across Nova Scotia. Stories are made public with only the reviewer’s first name and city. 

Stephanie from Amherst shared her story on the website of going to the emergency room for stomach pains that lasted for days. 

“I waited from 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and decided to leave because they were taking people ahead of me and the ER was packed,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie went back the next morning because the pain was much worse. 

“A doctor came in and asked if I would be ok to lay in the hall of the ER room,” Stephanie said. “I was made to feel like I should not have been there.”

Results from a CT scan found she had diverticulitis and gallstones. 

NDP Speaks Out

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Claudia Chender and Nova Scotia NDP Health Spokesperson Susan Leblanc of the Nova Scotia Legislature are zeroing in on the issue.

“We need a government that’s ready to support health care workers and the public,” Leblanc said in a November press release. 

Chender agreed with Leblanc in the press release. 

“The main message for us is to demand better. We have come to expect a terrible level of care in this province and we shouldn’t,” she said. “At the end of the day, we have a government that was elected to fix healthcare and we haven’t seen that.”

According to recent Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy results, 55,000 Nova Scotians left the ER last year without being seen, up from 43,000 the year before. The Halifax Examiner also states there were 632 deaths in 2023, up from 593 deaths in 2022.

Statement from the Minister of Health and Wellness

Minister of Health and Wellness Michelle Thompson provided a statement on the state of the healthcare system:

“The way Nova Scotians access healthcare is evolving. Those on the Need a Family Practice Registry may not be attached to a family doctor yet, but there are a growing number of ways they can access the care they need in the most appropriate setting.

More people than ever before are experiencing the convenience of virtual care. And, there are many other in-person options too, including pharmacy clinics, urgent treatment centres, and mobile health clinics. The YourHealthNS app is a great way to navigate these options.

A recent survey of those using the app found that 11.4% say they would have gone to an Emergency Department to seek care had they not found care through the app. Percentages of people who received care outside of an Emergency Department can be found here.

Every person we can care for outside an Emergency Department helps ease the wait for those in true emergencies. That said, it wouldn’t be right to link every death in an emergency department to wait times or access to primary care. Emergency Departments are meant for those who are experiencing severe illness or injury.

While our doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers work tirelessly for the best outcomes for everyone visiting an emergency department, the tragic reality is not everyone in an emergency situation can be saved.

There is much more work to do to improve healthcare in Nova Scotia and we are committed to making meaningful change across the sector. As this work unfolds, I encourage you to help promote the growing number of options for care.

There are now over 60,000 appointments per month for urgent primary care options in addition to what is available in existing primary care practices and emergency departments.”

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