Province holds emergency debate over northern Cape Breton health-care crisis

Discussion in the Nova Scotia legislature was heated on Friday as MLAs from across the province postulated a path forward for health care in northern Cape Breton.

Shortages across the region – in available doctors, ambulances, lab services and more – prompted an emergency debate that saw politicians from both the ruling Liberals and the official Opposition hurl accusations that the other party is failing Nova Scotians.

“People are looking at this situation and not understanding the geography and needs of the community,” Alfie McLeod, MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, told Global News after the debate.

“One of the things you have to do is remember that you can’t fix health care like a cookie-cutter.”

At the heart of the discussion is Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neil’s Harbour, which has recently experienced emergency department closures due to an insufficient number of doctors, some of whom have been sick as of late or taken maternity leave. The nearest hospital is at least two hours away by road, and at times there are no ambulances available to drive patients.

In response to this criticism, Liberal MLAs touted recent health care investments including incentive campaigns for medical professionals, recruitment of doctors from abroad, additional seats in nurse practitioner training programs, and “some of the most significant investments” in the history of Cape Breton’s health-related infrastructure.

McLeod dismissed the latter, claiming the infrastructure is no good without qualified professionals to operate it.

“My question is, what is their plan?” asked Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, in an interview.

“I have not heard one suggestion to recruit doctors on the island, I have not heard one suggestion to support the work of nurse practitioners or the other important health care providers on the island (from the Opposition).”

Health Minister Randy Delorey called the closures at Buchanan an “anomaly.”

“It hasn’t been a pattern of issues, it hasn’t been something that other communities have experienced, so it is expected to be short-term in nature in terms of the emergency closures right now,” he said.

The debate did not come to any resolution that would immediately change the situation in northern Cape Breton, but members of the McNeil government repeated throughout the day that a brand new budget is coming on March 26, and with that, new investments.

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