Primary-care summit may be step toward end of solo practices in N.B.

The Department of Health and the New Brunswick Medical Society plan to co-host a provincial summit on primary health care at the end of May that could lay the groundwork for doing away with solo practices.

“Stakeholders from throughout the provincial health system will be invited to collaborate and discuss opportunities for transitioning to team-based primary care in New Brunswick,” said department spokesperson Sean Hatchard.

No other details have been provided.

About 74,000 New Brunswickers do not have a primary care provider, deputy minister Eric Beaulieu recently told the legislature’s standing committee on public accounts, although the actual number is likely higher since some people may not have registered.

Of those, roughly 54,000 people now have access to a team of primary care providers through NB Health Link, launched in 2022, while they wait for a permanent provider, he said.

The government and stakeholders continue to seek solutions as the province faces challenges with recruitment and retention and as the population continues to grow and age.

“We look forward to continued discussion with our partners as we work to tackle the ongoing challenges within the province’s health-care system,” Hatchard said in an emailed statement.

‘Physicians want this’

The medical society, which represents more than 2,000 practising, future and retired physicians in the province, supports the move toward team-based care, according to the president.

“We would like ideally, in the longer term, to have transformation and have everybody working within a primary health-care multidisciplinary team,” said Dr. Paula Keating.

“Physicians want this. We just need support, and we need to work together with the regional health authorities and Department of Health to make this happen.”

Keating said she hopes stakeholders will be able to agree at the summit “on a path going forward together to improve health care.”

Call to release transformation strategy

Meanwhile, she’s calling on the Department of Health to make public its primary health-care transformation strategy and 18-month action plan, quietly launched about six months ago.

The medical society hasn’t seen the strategy or action plan, which the department has committed at least $10.3 million annually toward implementing, she said. The society wasn’t involved in developing them either.

“We’d like to see [them] in the public eye so that you know there is engagement — patients are aware, stakeholders are aware of what the process is, and that we can all guide and work together,” said Keating.

A woman wearing a pink shirt
Dr. Paula Keating, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says the work toward transformation can get ‘a bit discouraging,’ but she understands it takes time to get a good plan in place and likens it to a marathon. ‘You need to pace yourself.’ (CBC)

The department is still reviewing a request last month from the legislature’s standing committee on public accounts to release the strategy and action plan.

Deputy minister Beaulieu, however, did provide committee members with a “high level” overview. He said the strategy includes having interdisciplinary primary care teams consisting of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, working either within the same setting or having formalized agreements with each other to care for patients.

The strategy also includes working with the regional health authorities to “renew” community health centres and health service centres across the province, making them more efficient, and improving electronic medical records — “making sure that we have a well-connected system so that if a patient C is part of a clinic, that electronic medical record can be reviewed by any of the professionals that are providing care,” Beaulieu said.

Doctors want more say in reforms

Keating said she’s not quite sure why the medical society was “left out” of the working group that developed the action plan, but the professional association wants more say in primary care reforms.

“We’re hoping that [the government] will engage with us, sit down and really have some serious discussions about how we can make the system better and stabilize primary care right now and transform it in the coming months,” she said.

Until now, the government has focused largely on “smaller initiatives” and pilot projects, according to Keating, who cited the Fredericton urgent care centre, and expanded scope of practice for pharmacists at six locations, as examples.

While she acknowledges some of these initiatives have been “quite successful,” Keating said “we need a much more comprehensive and larger-scale approach to impact the seriousness of the health-care situation right now in New Brunswick.”

According to Hatchard, the Department of Health has had several discussions with the New Brunswick Medical Society about its health system ideas and also met with the organization on Feb. 15.

“In fact, we have suggested a number of initiatives for their consideration,” he said, without elaborating.

“A letter about these ideas was recently sent to the society to follow up,” Hatchard added.

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