Question Period: Health Care Providers – Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Health Care Providers



Mr. Coon: The waiting list for New Brunswickers seeking family doctors is, frankly, appalling. In Fredericton alone, the waiting list now numbers 5 600 people. Some families have been languishing on that list literally for years. To make matters worse, we are seeing a number of family doctors on the verge of retirement.

My question is for the Minister of Health. What is the minister doing to ensure that New Brunswickers are moved off the waiting lists and into family practices so that they no longer languish in emergency rooms for endless hours to seek the most basic of health care services?

Hon. Mr. Boudreau: I thank the Leader of the Third Party for the question. It is a very valid question, and it is one that we, as a government, are very much attempting to address. It is true that there are many vacant doctor positions in the Fredericton area. If the member opposite or any members of this House can help us to recruit doctors to the Fredericton area, we will gladly sit down with them and try to work out an arrangement. There are vacant billing numbers here in the area. It is a priority of government. We have people within the department who work on recruitment of doctors. We go out to every medical school in the country. We reach out to the various job fairs and whatnot, but it is a very competitive business. Whatever the member opposite or anybody else can do to help us attract doctors . . .

Mr. Coon: It is interesting. My question was about family practices and not specifically about doctors because nurse practitioner-based family practices could alleviate the doctor shortage. Nurse practitioners are able to diagnose, prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests, and refer patients to specialists. One nurse practitioner can take 1 000 people off the waiting list, yet, unbelievably, nurse practitioners are leaving New Brunswick for lack of work. It is not a question of attracting them to the province or trying to find them—they are already here. Why is the minister not pulling out all the stops to make sure that nurse practitioners can establish family practices in New Brunswick to alleviate that shortage?

Hon. Mr. Boudreau: Again, I thank the member opposite for that question, and it is a very valid one. One of the commitments that we have in our platform is to make sure that we are fully utilizing the scope of practice of all our medical professionals, and that does include nurse practitioners.

Just before coming to the Legislature here today, my colleague the Deputy Premier and I participated in the official opening of the Fredericton downtown community health centre in its temporary location. Unfortunately, I saw the Leader of the Green Party only as I was exiting or I would have recognized his attendance there as well. It was good to see him there. It is a priority of our government to open more community health centres across the province. Here in Fredericton, this is a temporary measure. As we know, there has been a lot of talk on the floor of the Legislature about money being put aside to build a new downtown Fredericton community health centre, and that will happen in the next fiscal year.

Mr. Coon: I am not talking about buildings, of course. I am talking about people. There are 11 nurse practitioners currently looking for work in New Brunswick, and they are going to leave unless we provide them with work. Another 11 will graduate from UNB this fall, and 12 more next fall. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have New Brunswickers sitting in waiting rooms waiting for a family doctor when there are nurse practitioners available who could take them on as patients now. Will the minister undertake to report back to this House on any barriers that stand in the way of moving nurse practitioners into family practices so that New Brunswick families can access health care now?

Hon. Mr. Boudreau: As I said, we are certainly doing what we can to address the doctor shortage here in the Fredericton area. We are actively recruiting new doctors. We have just officially opened a downtown community health centre in its temporary location. We have committed money to a new location for the building, which will be built in the coming months.

We also made a commitment in the platform that we would fully utilize the health care professionals that we do have, including nurse practitioners. I agree with the member opposite that they are not being utilized to their full capacity here in the province. We are certainly going to look at ways and areas where we can improve the collaboration with nurse practitioners, just as we can improve the collaboration with our pharmacists, our paramedics, and our advanced care paramedics. The list goes on. We want to utilize fully the health care professionals that we have. We will certainly be reporting as progress is made on this file.