FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's regional health authorities are adding 32 nurse practitioners to emergency departments and clinics in an effort to improve access to primary care.
Health Minister Hugh Flemming says the move will improve wait times at four emergency rooms and reduce the provincial wait-list for a family doctor or nurse practitioner by more than half.
"There are just too many New Brunswickers who do not have access to a primary health care provider and there are too many New Brunswickers waiting in emergency rooms," Flemming said Monday at a news conference in Fredericton.
He said the measures announced Monday would effectively cut in half the list of 35,000 people waiting for a family doctor or nurse practitioner, "and we are just getting started."
The Horizon Health Network, which covers English-language facilities, will add 21 nurse practitioners, while 11 will be added in the French-language Vitalite Health Network, bringing the provincial total to 97.
Eighteen of the nurse practitioners will work in clinics to be opened in Fredericton and Saint John and at a current clinic in Moncton. Others will be employed in emergency rooms or distributed around the province where needs arise.
"The addition of these nurse practitioner clinics will mean many more patients will be able to see a primary health care provider every day," Karen McGrath, president and CEO of the Horizon Health Network, said.
New Brunswick has employed nurse practitioners since 2002, and McGrath said they are the right people for the clinics and other settings.
"Their skill set makes them the right professional for these care environments. They are trained to diagnose, and treat common acute care problems, monitor and manage chronic disease and prescribe diagnostic testing, medications and other treatments," she said.
Gilles Lanteigne, president and CEO of the Vitalite Health Network, said the health care system is affected by an aging population and numerous recruitment challenges, but he's confident the challenges can be met.
Horizon currently has one nurse practitioner vacancy while Vitalite has four, but Flemming said he doesn't see an issue filling the new positions, and recruiting has already begun.
Flemming did not directly answer when asked about the cost of the new positions, but said it would not be an issue.
"We have budgeted positions funded which are unoccupied. We have budgeted positions for family physicians which are vacant. They are budgeted. The funds are available. We haven't been able to fill them, so really this is not so much the challenge of new money," Flemming said.
He said he wants the first clinics to open this summer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press