N.S. Liberals vote against hearing about ER overcrowding, physician recruitment in new committee

The government members of Nova Scotia’s new standing committee on health have voted against opposition motions that would see it focus on overcrowding at emergency rooms and recruitment and retention of doctors.

Instead, the Liberals put forward three topics for the committee: the redevelopment of hospitals in Cape Breton and at Halifax’s QEII, and investments in orthopedics. Those motions got unanimous support from PC and NDP members.

An NDP motion to call witnesses on emergency room overcrowding and ambulance offload delays was defeated by the Liberal members.

Progressive Conservative MLA Karla MacFarlane proposed hearing about from a list of witnesses on physician recruitment. The list included Dr. Jeannie McGillivray, who recently resigned over concerns about work-life balance.

“She’s courageous, she’s brave in wanting to share her story so that we can look at the gaps and challenges that have been created by all governments over decades. We’re all at fault,” MacFarlane said.

“And having Dr. Jeannie McGillivray, who wants to come forward and be able to speak about those conditions, then enables us to look at those challenges and gaps.”

Several opposition members spoke in favour of the motion, including NDP MLA Claudia Chender.

“One of the reasons that we can’t recruit doctors — and we know this because we hear this — is because other doctors tell them not to work here,” Chender said. “And why is that happening? If we don’t understand that, we won’t be able to fix it.”

After hearing opposition from the Liberals, PC MLA Barb Adams raised concerns over government transparency.

“I think if you ban us from having this on the committee agenda, it’s going to send a message to Nova Scotians that recruitment of physicians and the issues that they’re facing is done in secret, that we don’t want to be transparent, and that we’re not taking the possible information we could get from someone who has first-hand knowledge,” Adams said.

Liberal MLA Hugh McKay told the committee that the multi-year redevelopment plans for the QEII hospital and hospitals in Cape Breton will “create working conditions that are going to be attractive” to doctors. He also rebuffed concerns over transparency.

“All Nova Scotians and all MLAs are very concerned about these issues,” he said.

“This committee was established, though, to give a full range of transparency, of questioning, of various topics related to this. And I would say it’s being held in this very chamber so that it can be televised and that all Nova Scotians will have access to this.”

“So this committee and the subject matter is being done in full transparency and openness with the citizens of Nova Scotia.”

The committee will meet once a month. It has been meeting in the legislative chamber, which is set up for live-streaming through Legislature TV, but it’s unclear where meetings will be held going forward.

Committee chair and Liberal MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft told the members at the end of the meeting that Speaker Kevin Murphy is “considering which facilities we will use” in the future. A letter from the Speaker to the committee cited the cost of holding meetings in the legislative chamber.

The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12.

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