PAULA DOUCET & KAREN FRENETTE – COMMENTARY
New Brunswick has the longest wait times and highest levels of chronic illness in Canada. More than 20,000 residents are currently waiting, some as long as four years, to be assigned a primary care provider. Our government continues to focus on physician recruitment (recently funding this effort to $15 million), with little or no success filling vacancies, some of which have been vacant for many years.
New Brunswickers’ health needs continue to go unmet, turning patients to emergency rooms and after hour clinics for basic health services, the end result being expensive emergency room care and unnecessary patient admissions to hospital.
The two largest nursing organizations in the province, the Nurses Association of New Brunswick (NANB) and the New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) representing over 8,600 registered nurses and nurse practitioners, have partnered and identified five healthcare election priorities, which if implemented – would greatly improve the health of people living in New Brunswick.
The next elected government must recognize and implement nurse practitioners by assigning them to the 20,000 plus patients waiting for a primary care provider.
Health needs are also going unmet in our nursing homes; registered nurses therefore call for creation of a five-year sustainability plan for placement of nurse practitioners in the long-term care sector.
Nurse practitioners have been licensed to practice in our province for 15 years. They can assess, diagnose and treat their patients in a very similar manner as family physicians. Like family physicians, nurse practitioners can order blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound and CT scans. They can also prescribe new medication, adjust medication as needed, and refill prescriptions.
Nurse practitioners refer patients to other health professionals as needed, such as social work, dieticians, psychologists, and medical specialists including: cardiologists; nephrologists; psychiatrists; orthopedic physicians; etc. Nurse practitioners work in teams as well as independently. Research findings indicate that patients who receive health services from nurse practitioners are highly satisfied.
Public funds support nurse practitioner education programs in the same way medical and pharmacy programs are supported.
However, many nurse practitioners cannot find sufficient employment hours in the province to maintain a license to practice. These professionals are forced to leave for employment in other provinces such as Quebec and Nova Scotia, where governments have recognized the importance of accessible primary care for their population health needs. Nurse practitioners can (and should) be serving communities in New Brunswick by providing needed health services. Other provinces and countries are implementing nurse practitioner-led clinics, helping to reduce wait times and access to care.
Nurse practitioners offer an affordable, available solution to access necessary primary/family care in New Brunswick and the next elected government must take immediate action to ensure everyone receives the health service they deserve. As voters, it is time you demand more from government.