Time Ontario fully utilizes nurse practitioners

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

Over the past few weeks, I’ve met with both physicians and nurse practitioners at Queen’s Park. The physicians tell me they are overwhelmed and bogged down with paperwork. Nurse practitioners tell me they are underutilized.

Just a few days ago, a report to Norfolk County council outlined how dire the situation is. At present, 22 per cent of Norfolk County physicians are over the age of 60. These doctors are responsible for 21 per cent of Norfolk County residents. Traditional retirement practices tell us that doctors over the age of 60 are nearing the time to hang up their stethoscopes.

The situation with family doctors locally might be able to be summed up as the edge of a crisis.

Given these facts, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out nurse practitioners can be part of the solution. There is interest in setting up a clinic in Port Dover, but the funding model is presenting a challenge in getting it off the ground. Without getting into the red tape technicalities, a program that could have been used to launch new clinics is not accepting applications at this time. I am advocating on behalf of nurse practitioners.

Provincially, it’s time government utilizes nurse practitioners to their full scope. For the unfamiliar, nurse practitioners have completed a two-year’s master program in their specialty, plus clinical training. Nurse practitioners are one of three categories of regulated nurses in the province.

They can assess, diagnose, and refer patients to specialists. They can prescribe medications, work in conjunction with a medical team and focus on health promotion. Nurse practitioners can work in conjunction with a family physician in a clinic, helping to alleviate the physician’s workload. They can also work in a hospital emergency room situation. Nurse practitioners can also be a greater help in the homecare field.

The Nurse Practitioners Association of Ontario is currently in the midst of an advocacy campaign to make their members a bigger part of the solution to the province’s doctor shortage. New funding models for clinics, which is the main stumbling block in Port Dover is one of the asks. Doctors in a clinic can’t bill OHIP for nurse practitioner’s services, which is another of the stumbling blocks. They also want compensation for medical assistance in dying (MAID), the ability to certify death, the ability to Form 1 patients for involuntary admission to the hospital and professional liability protection.

Another problem limiting the number of health care professionals relates to foreign-trained doctors – both Canadians trained abroad and immigrants. A recent report by CBC shed light on the 1,000 applications denied annually for hospital residency spots from foreign-trained Canadians. These people are likely to practice in Canada. But the medical schools that run the programs find spots for foreign nationals from Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who are not going to stay in Canada to practice. This is mainly a federal issue through immigration laws, but it needs to be addressed.

The problem is acute, only 370 of 1,810 Canadians who were trained in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom were granted residency. Imagine how far 1,500 new doctors per year would go?

Wait times are not getting better. I have long believed if something is not working despite numerous attempts to fix it, it’s time to find new innovative ideas. Nurse practitioners and addressing all issues surrounding medical school spots and residency for Canadians trained abroad are two areas where improvement could be found and appears to me to be plain old common sense.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.