Staff shortage remains a limiting factor in improving health care in Nova Scotia

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As the Nova Scotia government continues its efforts to deliver on its promise to fix health care, staffing remains a major challenge.

In recent months, the government has announced several projects that experts believe will make a significant difference to cancer prevention and treatment in a context province with the highest incidence rates in the country.

These same experts, however, affirm that human resources remain a limiting factor they face.

“As a cancer care program we have been quite successful, but we are only one part of the overall cancer care system,” said Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst, medical director of the care program. against cancer in the province, in a recent interview.

An interconnected system

Hollenhorst said the cancer program attracts “the best and brightest” who want to be part of the evolving and emerging technology and research happening here, but that this program relies on other parts of the system facing staff shortages.

“Cancer care goes so far… We are so interdependent on diagnostic imaging, laboratory, pathology, pharmacy, psychosocial, that we integrate and collaborate strongly with all of these partners to develop the program together. »

Late last year, the provincial government announced plans to purchase two new state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines which allow cancer treatments to be personalized for each patient at the time of their treatment. The province also signed a long-term deal this month with the company that makes the machines, Varian, for research and treatment equipment that will help expand oncology services.

A week ago, Health Minister Michelle Thompson announced a new lung cancer screening program. Doctors say the program will help detect the disease earlier and result in faster treatment and better outcomes for patients.

Access without a doctor

The head of the thoracic surgery department then stressed that his team expected more referrals and work following the new screening program and that this would possibly require more resources. The lung screening program was launched in the central zone of the province and will be available to the rest of the province over the next two years.

“I think as screening programs evolve, doctors like me will need more resources to be able to respond to the increase in referrals and be confident that we can then offer timely treatment for these detected cancers earlier,” Dr. Madelaine Plourde told reporters at a news conference.

One of the challenges in cancer treatment remains people’s access to primary care. As of this month, 150,000 people in Nova Scotia are listed on the provincial family medicine needs registry. Some cancer screenings require a doctor’s intervention, such as for cervical cancer.

But Hollenhorst said steps are being taken to facilitate access for people who don’t have a family doctor. People can self-refer to the lung cancer screening program, for example, and cervical cancer screening is moving away from the Pap test to an HPV test that people can do themselves. yourself at home and mail it back (a similar approach to what is currently happening with colorectal cancer screening).

Recruitment efforts continue

However, family doctors are not the only limiting factor.

The provincial health authority has nearly 150 positions for radiology technologists, the role responsible for medical imaging; there are also nearly 40 opportunities in pathology and laboratory medicine.

Thompson highlighted his government’s efforts to attract and retain health care workers through incentives and bonuses, with new collective agreements recently signed with nurses and doctors.

But Thompson also acknowledged there is still much work to be done as Nova Scotia faces a problem facing health systems across the country and beyond.

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