Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien in The Daily Gleaner

It’s a tale we know all too well: thousands of New Brunswickers do not have a family doctor.

It is estimated that some 80 per cent of what happens in our healthcare system takes place in that “primary care setting” which usually means family doctors offices. Yet right now 60,000 New Brunswickers are currently without a family doctor.

We simply do not have enough family doctors in New Brunswick. On average, doctors in New Brunswick have the highest patient load in Canada, with each doctor taking on average 1,800 patients, compared to a Canadian medium of 1,400 patients per doctor. That also means people have to wait longer for an appointment.

Successive governments have promised to give all New Brunswickers access to a family doctor. The current government said they would act by adding 50 net new general practitioners by 2018.

Primary care is a right that all citizens in New Brunswick should have, but don’t. Did the past successive governments take this seriously?  It appears they didn’t.

We all know someone, it may it be our family, friends or neighbours who do not have access to a doctor or who have waited years trying to find a doctor who is willing to take them under their care.

We all know students who have made the choice to come to New Brunswick for post secondary education but cannot find a family doctor throughout their time in school, and still cannot find one even as they enter the workforce after four or five years of studies.

We all know parents who are forced to wait for hours at walk-in clinics or in the ER with their kids for prescription refills, referrals or small ailments that could be treated in a physician’s office.

We all know seniors who are bounced around from doctor to doctor at clinics, where no one who knows their unique needs and medical challenges.

Often these stories are only told between friends and neighbours, but the premier and the Liberal government need to hear these stories.

One story found here on the pages of the Daily Gleaner from March 10 told of a Fredericton man who has spent close to three years on the Patient Connect list waiting for a family doctor.

This is unacceptable: our public healthcare system is built around primary care teams, which starts with the family doctor.

New Brunswick is the sickest province in the country. Sixty percent of New Brunswickers have at least one chronic disease, and 13 percent of those people are on six or more medications. We also have the second highest rates of disability in Canada. We have the third highest diabetes rate, and the third highest rate of cancer in Canada.

With an aged and aging population this failure by past governments has created a healthcare crisis that is going to get worse.

It’s time the premier took his promise seriously. Talk on the health care file simply isn’t enough, it’s time to address this shortage today.

The NDP would do things differently. Following the recommendation of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, we will implement the Patient’s Medical Home System in New Brunswick, which places the family physician at the centre of a healthcare team. This eases the burden on family physicians by allowing other healthcare professionals to be the patient’s first point of contact and allows for better and faster primary care for all New Brunswickers.

The NDP would also recruit more family doctors and specialists by increasing residencies by 20 per cent and working to ease restrictions on foreign educated doctors.

If New Brunswick is going to be promoted as the best place to live, start a family, or to start businesses,  access to a doctor must be an important part of that equation. It starts by building a healthcare system that’s envied around the world. That begins with primary care access and family doctors for all.

Rosaire L’Italien is the interim leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party.