Urgent Call to Stabilize Primary Health Care

The consensus has never been clearer, the most urgent priority in the health-care system is to fix the front door. Our primary care system is falling apart around us, held together by the sheer will of overworked and undervalued family physicians, nurse practitioners and health-care professionals across our communities.

The diagnosis is simple, and the prescription was clear a decade ago. There is no debate. Yet successive governments have chosen to count pennies instead of investing in change. Physicians and health-care professionals deserve to work in well supported primary health-care teams, where physicians lead, every health-care professional can work to
their scope of practice, and citizens have seamless access to the services they need, in state-of-the-art facilities supported by the latest technology.

The question for politicians and decisionmakers is why we have not yet made the necessary investments to transform our
health-care system. We seem to have been investing in everything except universal and comprehensive access to team-based primary care. In the 2022-23 provincial budget, the government committed only $3.7 million dollars to multi-disciplinary teams, and another $10 million to primary care transformation. These investments represent 0.5% of the total health-care budget. Meanwhile, in just six months this year, they managed to spend more than $50 million dollars on private-sector travel nurses from outside the province.

The art of budget-making in any household is simple; you put your money where your priorities are. Not only your financial resources, but your time and energy. This government has not convened health-care stakeholders in years. We understand it is challenging to debate ideas, build consensus, and make transformative change, but it is the only way forward. We need to solve this issue together, and we need to do it now.

For physicians, the next steps are clear. It is no different than a health-care crisis. The first step is to stabilize the patient. This means making an immediate large-scale investment in retaining family physicians and nurse practitioners to ensure that they stay in practice a little longer while we work with them to fix the system, just like Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia have done in recent months. The need is obvious; we are rapidly falling behind, and we need to stop the bleeding.

The New Brunswick Medical Society has proposed a detailed plan to the government to do just that. We provided options for priority investment, to ensure that those physicians and health-care professionals currently holding the system together will stick around, and that new physicians will choose to practice family medicine. The time is now. Every week that goes by will see more physicians making choices about their future. We need to demonstrate that retaining them is our priority and that we are serious about fixing the health-care system.

Dr. Paula Keating is a family physician in Miramichi and the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.