Nurse practitioners say they’re underutilized in a stressed system

The provincial Progressive Conservatives are calling the growing number of people in Newfoundland and Labrador without a family physician a crisis, but Health Minister John Haggie says it’s not a new problem — and it’s one he’s working on.

Haggie met with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and the Nurse Practitioner Association on Tuesday to discuss strategies to alleviate the issue, after the released the results of a survey that suggested about one in five people in the province don’t have a family doctor. That’s roughly 99,000 people.

In places like Holyrood, residents are lamenting the retirement of their longtime family doctor, while being unable to find another family physician to take over their care.

“It’s nothing in the way of a situation that’s new. We manage those situations,” Haggie said. 

“We’ve put primary health-care teams in Burin, Bonavista and we’re starting in Gander and Botwood. So there’s work ongoing.”

But PC MHA David Brazil criticized the province for not being able to retain doctors trained at Memorial University’s school of medicine, saying the number of people in the province without a family doctor in the province is a crisis.

He said there needs to be better recruitment and salary to attract new doctors to the province and keep them here.

“There’s a multitude of things here. It’s not a one quick fix, there’s a multifaceted approach. But if we put all our ducks in a line there’s no reason why people would not have access to proper medical care anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.

“We see more retiring than we’re recruiting or retaining. There’s some real challenges in our system here. It has to be rectified immediately because this is health we’re talking about.”

However, Haggie said the number of retained doctors out of MUN is actually increasing.  

According to Haggie the province spends about $5 million on recruitment and retention of doctors annually, adding Eastern Health has 68 more family physicians now than in 2010.

‘Let us join in’

Nurse practitioners say they can be a key asset in making sure people are getting the care they need.

“We diagnose illness, we order blood work and diagnostic tests, we treat conditions, prescribe medications, and we also promote health,” said Kirk Dawe, president of the association.

“We work independently under our own licence. We’re not supervised by physicians, but we do work very closely with them. We collaborate with them, always in the best interests of our patients.”

But, Dawe said, the province’s current health-care system limits where NPs can practise.

“For example, the issues in Holyrood right now, currently there’s no way for an NP to just go out there and set up shop, unless they were gonna directly bill the clients,” he said.

“What we’re asking for is some sort of mechanism so if someone’s available they can go, start a practice and somehow bill the government so patients don’t have to pay for those services.”

Read more at: Thousands in N.L. without family doctor ‘challenging,’ says health minister