About 63,000 New Brunswick people are now waiting for a doctor – 23,000 more than when the county announced its new health plan in November.
But Suzanne Johnston, co-president of the health plan implementation task force, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that there are other options in place while New Brunswick works to expand patients’ access to care.
“How do we spread the message that there is more than one way to access care and more than one way to support each other in this,” Johnston said of the task force’s goals.
When the county announced its health plan, about 40,000 people were on the Patient Connect New Brunswick list.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard introduced the plan a month after missing a previously announced target. In April 2021, she said her goal was to provide each New Brunswick with a primary caregiver within six months.
The need for goals and implementation speed was part of the health plan, which promised that the waiting list in the second quarter of 2022-23 would be eliminated and replaced by the New Brunswick Primary Care Network.
With the network, anyone without a family doctor or nurse will be able to access one in a timely manner while waiting for a long-term placement.
Asked how close the province is to achieving this goal, Johnston quoted the waiting list numbers – 11,000 people have been added to the list since February – and suggested that while everyone on the waiting list may not end up with their own doctor, they will have better access to care.
Since February, when the waiting list was 55,000, about 3,000 people have been referred to doctors, which means there has been a net gain of 8,000 people on the list.
Johnston said some of the increase is likely related to the people who have moved to the county recently.
Right now, the task force’s work is focused on short-term stabilization and medium- and long-term thinking, she said. In the short term, for example, greater access to care is provided through eVisitNB agreements and referrals through 811.
Gérard Richard, co-president of the health plan implementation task force, said work is underway to establish key performance indicators so the group knows if the plan needs to be adjusted.
“Just talking about a plan, it’s not enough … We have to have goals.
Task Force members indicated they had spent much of their time since November meeting with community and health leaders and learning about problems, potential solutions and changes in some places that are already yielding results.
“We are especially listening to the communities to see how we can educate ourselves about the five pillars of the health plan,” Richard said.
The pillars are: access to primary care, access to surgery, support for seniors and access to addiction and mental health care.
The human resources page
Johnston said a difficult decision that comes with implementing the health plan is deciding which jobs health professionals can keep control of and which jobs they can pass on to the community.
“When we are in community and working in community-based environments, it’s about who the other people in communities are who can do things,” she said.
She used nursing homes without walls as an example. It is an elderly care strategy that helps the elderly live in their own home instead of in a nursing home.
The people who work with that program are not nurses or doctors, according to Johnston.
“They are members of society,” she said. “They are ordinary people looking after their neighbors.”
Retention and recruitment
Johnston said a healthcare team has been working to implement changes in the recruitment and retention of physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals.
She did not give details, but said efforts would be made to improve the workplace culture to help retain workers.
A strategy to increase recruitment includes collaborating with other ministries that have experience in recruitment, she said.
This week, a dashboard is launched where the public can follow the implementation of the health plan. It will include a deeper look at recruitment and retention, Johnston said.
‘Is it in crisis?’
Johnston said looking at emergency care could be helpful in determining if the health care system is in crisis.
“When we have people who could be seen in a different environment, … we would like those people to seek care there,” she said. “Right now, the default button goes to emergency care because we do not have the other system in place.”
Once professionals are used to their maximum, and integrated care in the community is being implemented, Johnston said there will be more flow in the health care system.
She said that when Medicare was invented, it was not intended for people with multiple complex medical health issues.
“It’s a different world,” Johnston said. “We need to think differently about the system. How do we bring innovation, how do we bring innovation to our work?”