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Healthcare system ‘at risk’: Liverpool doctor

Queens County community chimes in on healthcare

LIVERPOOL – A Queens County doctor says Liverpool has been lucky to escape some of the healthcare access problems that are plaguing other parts of Nova Scotia – until now.

During a session hosted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority hosted a conversation at Queens Place Emera Centre in Liverpool April 18 about collaborative family practice teams, the public had a chance to ask questions about the current system.

One of the questions that came up during the evening’s public discussion was about whether local physicians Dr. Tim Woodford and Dr. Andrew Blackadar could cover each other’s patients while the other was absent. 

The short answer? No.

“In Liverpool, we’ve really been blessed for a long, long time with respect to the type of system that we’ve had here, and it is at risk now,” Dr. Woodford said.

For a long time, he said, Liverpool has been immune to some of the problems being discussed in other communities. Until recently, healthcare professionals in Liverpool have been able to look after the population. 

The family practice registry is the list people register for by calling or emailing to say they need a healthcare provider. According to the registry for Lunenburg and Queens, as of data from April 1, there were 2,553 people in need of a doctor. Bridgewater has approximately 1,800 people on the list, and Chester has a little more than 200 people. Liverpool has approximately 400 people registered.

“One of the issues that we have here in Liverpool with respect to what’s being laid out in front of you today is that it doesn’t quite fit for the way we’ve always worked,” said Dr. Woodford. 

“The reason that it doesn’t fit is that we do encourage people that come here, and as a group, to try to provide a comprehensive family practice.”

He said that includes an office-based practice, emergency-room coverage, in-patient coverage, nursing-home coverage, palliative care and home visits.

“As a group, up until recently, we’ve been able to look after every resident in Queens County,” he said.

For a long time, he said, everyone in the area could get a family doctor. Now, Dr. Woodford and Dr. Blackadar are extremely busy, he said. 

“If Andy’s away, I cannot look after his patients. I just can’t manage it,” he said. 

Emergency room swamped

Dr. Woodford said Liverpool’s emergency room is swamped with people who come from outside Queens, such as Yarmouth, Shelburne and Lunenburg counties. This has made call shifts extremely busy, he said. 

During those shifts, doctors are dealing with ill patients that don’t have family doctors, he added. 

Dr. Woodford said many doctors are exhausted from doing their call shifts and are therefore not in the office as much.

Dr. Jim Rafferty, from North Queens Medical Centre in Caledonia, also provided some information about collaborative family practice teams. 

“In the province of Nova Scotia in the year 2000, there were four collaborative teams developed around the province, and we happened to be one of them,” said Dr. Rafferty. 

Collaborative family practice teams are a range of healthcare professionals working together to provide patients with comprehensive care. 

“There is a shared medical record, and patients see the same team providers throughout their lives, building a medical history and a trusting relationship over time,” he said. 

Dr. Rafferty said the collaborative teams allow greater appointment flexibility and reduced wait times to get appointments. He said what collaborative family practice teams look like depends on a community’s size and needs. 

Susan Savage, health services manager for Lunenburg and Queens counties, said collaborative family practice teams provide people access to a wide range of services, including diagnoses, prescribing, well-visits, foot care, nutrition and social work, among others. 

Changing access to healthcare

 “Primary care is how most people get the majority of their healthcare,” explained Margo Walsh-Leaman, health services lead with Primary Health Care in the Western Zone. 

“It is the care you receive from a family doctor, a nurse practitioner, a family-practice nurse (and) other health providers.”

Walsh-Leaman said in the Queens County community, there are a number of challenges with accessing primary care. She also said things are changing, with there being more chronic disease and an aging population.

Andrea Rose, part of the public engagement team with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, explained following the presentation that people would have the opportunity to discuss three questions in groups. 

“We will be compiling everything that you contribute to tonight and sending that all back to you,” said Rose. 

The presentation included a video explaining what collaborative family practice teams are. 

“For many of us, most of our contact with the healthcare system will be through appointments with our family doctor. We call it primary care because it’s where we go first to access the care we need,” said the video’s narrator. 

The video described collaborative family practice teams as ones in which not all primary care has to come from family doctors. 

“Instead, your doctor is part of a team that could include a nurse practitioner, family-practice nurse, physiotherapist or a range of other health professionals.”

Conversations about collaborative family practice teams have been happening in various regions and will continue to take place. 

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