New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shepard announced a new project to give residents more options to access care faster and avoid long waits in emergency departments.
“This project advances health plan commitments to improve access to primary health care, as well as addictions and mental health services and better utilize all health professionals in our province. , including family physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and more,” Shepard said.
“I believe today represents an important turning point for primary health care in our province.
Shepard says about 60 per cent of typical New Brunswick emergency department patients could be treated in a community setting if faster access were available.
“We can provide these people with better care options and relieve the overwhelmed teams in our ERs at the same time,” Shepard said.
The province is partnering with regional health authorities, Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick and community health care providers to accelerate plans to provide New Brunswickers with alternatives so they don’t do not need to go to the emergency room for care that can be provided in the community.
“There is still work to be done to achieve our vision of a fully integrated system of community services and changes will be likely, but these are crucial steps that will inform our journey and provide New Brunswickers with access to better care.” Shepard said.
Shepard says emergency departments will continue to see patients for their emergency health needs, including chest pain, signs of stroke and broken bones. Also, people who think they might hurt themselves or are sexually assaulted should still go to the hospital.
“If you are having an emergency and think you may need urgent transport to the hospital, I urge you to call 911. An ambulance will be dispatched to your home, as it always has been. However, the paramedics will use their clinical judgment to determine if transport to hospital is necessary or if other health care options are better suited to your needs,” Shepard said.
From Monday, paramedics will have the ability to treat and discharge patients.
Shepard says residents with a family doctor or nurse practitioner who need access to general health services should contact their provider first. If an appointment cannot be made in a timely manner and a health need is pressing, the Minister of Health indicates that other options are available before going to the emergency department.
“Pharmacists can now refill prescriptions whether or not you have a primary care provider. They can answer questions about medications, prescribe treatment for minor ailments including urinary tract infections, skin conditions, fungal infections, and answer questions about vaccinations,” she said.
New Brunswickers can also call 811 to receive support from a nurse and be directed to additional services.
“The 811 telecare service has been expanded to include in-person community appointments and virtual appointments accessible within 24 hours,” Shepard said.
The Minister of Health has also suggested walk-in clinics and virtual walk-in clinics as another alternative for New Brunswickers seeking a consultation with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
“We are demonstrating that we can use technology to connect New Brunswickers to the care they need. Pharmacists and paramedics will use their training and skills to have an even greater impact on the lives of New Brunswickers,” Shepard said.
According to Shepard, access to primary health care providers has been a problem in New Brunswick for a long time. The New Brunswick Health Council has been monitoring access to primary health care for a decade and released a new report in November 2021 which indicates that 91% of New Brunswickers have a primary care provider, a physician from family or a nurse practitioner.
“This is one of the highest rates in the country. However, only 57% of New Brunswickers reported seeing their family doctor most often when in need of care. This number is virtually unchanged since the health board released its first primary health care report in 2011,” Shepard said.
“When patients can’t get care for their urgent health need in a timely manner, they end up in our emergency rooms. This is not the appropriate place for this type of care at all times, but especially right now.