Ten doctors have left St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish over the past year.
The shortage of specialists has resulted in longer wait times for elective surgeries or to see an internal medicine specialist.
And it’s raised questions about whether there is a particular problem at the hospital that serves patients over a wide area of the northeast mainland and southern Cape Breton.
“Antigonish has a university, a regional hospital, a lot of young people, there’s theatre there, a golf course and all your shopping needs so it is a very desirable place to live,” said Allan MacMaster, MLA for Inverness, which is served by St. Martha’s.
“It should not be a difficult place to retain doctors.”
MacMaster has been railing against the health authority and Health Minister Randy Delorey, who represents Antigonish, in the legislature.
“The health minister will say he can’t talk about it, that it’s a private matter in each case,” said MacMaster.
“To me that’s a cop-out. The issue is you’ve lost 10 doctors in a year in your own constituency and you’re the minister of health. At what time does he take responsibility to find out why they left and do something about it?”
Delorey provided a written response to The Chronicle Herald’s questions.
“As with any profession it is normal to have people retire or pursue new opportunities while others join an organization in a given year,” said Delorey.
Only one of the 10 doctors who left over the past year was retiring.
In February, Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray, a sixth-generation Antigonisher, told The Chronicle Herald that the Nova Scotia Health Authority forced her to resign after refusing her proposals that would see her work slightly less than a full-time schedule with a corresponding decrease in pay.
“I was burnt-out and I just needed a little bit of help,” said the general surgeon.
“Apart from my full-time duties, I was either on call, pre-call or post-call every day of my life. I had zero ability to modify that.”
Dr. Jeremy Hillyard, medical site lead for St. Martha’s, said doctors have left in the past year for a variety of reasons, including better pay in other jurisdictions, issues with changes to licensing regulations, for places where they would spend less time on-call and for family reasons.
Asked if there was work environment issue particular to St. Martha’s pushing people out, Hillyard said, “I don’t think so. My evidence for saying that is two of the people who have left are continuing to come back and help as locums. They obviously don’t mind working here.”
He pointed to the seven doctors — three family physicians and four specialists — who have been recruited over the same period the 10 have left.
According to Delorey there is “active discussion” with an additional two potential specialist recruits.
“To enhance our recruitment and retention efforts, we have boosted pay for family doctors and created new incentives,” said Delorey.
“We’ve added 25 new residency seats and launched a new practice-ready assessment program to help internationally trained doctors practise here. More flexibility has been added to our doctor recruitment incentives, like tuition relief, debt assistance, and the family medicine bursary.”
In its recent budget, the province added another $10 million for collaborative primary care and $200,000 to support community participation in doctor recruitment, among other investments in health care.