THE MINISTER SPEAKS
Many measures needed to improve mental health care, says Delorey.
There’s no single approach to solving the challenges facing the understaffed mental health system in Cape Breton, the province’s health minister says.
In an interview, Randy Delorey was responding to news that the region will soon be down to four psychiatrists — one-quarter of what the staffing would be at full complement — with the recent announcement by site lead Dr. Scott Milligan that he is resigning, effective Jan. 31.
Delorey said he’s aware of the vacancies in psychiatry in Cape Breton and the Nova Scotia Health Authority has set it as a priority in its specialty recruitment efforts.
He said the province does recognize the need for more bodies on the ground.
“In the interim, I have met and heard from psychiatrists, particularly in Cape Breton, on some suggestions of things that we can do differently,” Delorey said.
What has come out of that are some changes to the locum program, which allows doctors from another region of the province to provide care on a shorter-term basis. Locally, two psychiatrists in private practice in Sydney and another from elsewhere in Nova Scotia have provided coverage under locums.
“My understanding is we’re seeing people make use of that and come and back fill and fill shifts in Cape Breton in the psychiatry space, we’re seeing that also in other parts of the province that have other specialty needs,” Delorey said.
The minister also touted a clinical associate program that is being deployed in Cape Breton, which a senior official with the health authority said was Milligan’s suggestion. It involves physicians who have generally been trained outside of Canada and work under a specific licence in a semisupervised environment.
“It’s not something that can be done instantly but we’ll work with our partners like the College of Physicians and Surgeons so they’re working to have that program up and running to provide more support,” Delorey said.
When asked whether he believes the recruitment efforts to date have been sufficient, he said he believes the other measures that have been undertaken will make the area more attractive and support recruitment efforts.
“That’s ultimately a significant part of the long-term solution,” Delorey said.
“Is it the total solution? No, there’s no one single best solution. But is it part of the path forward? Yes.”
Those working in the system are also continuing to look for ways to be more effective and efficient, including streamlining immigration requirements for potential doctors, the minister said.
One local doctor has raised concerns about the effectiveness of telehealth in the area of mental health. That is one measure that the provincial health authority has indicated it intends to make more use of to deal with the psychiatric shortages.
Delorey said there has been research backing up its usefulness.
“In some cases, it’s services being offered by programs like Kids Help Phone … they’ve expanded and provide online chat sessions and my conversations with that organization noted that Nova Scotia actually stands out as the jurisdiction where we have proportionally actually much of it happening through online rather than the traditional phone line and that the outcomes are positive,” he said.
There have been delays in the rollout of a new system to report and track wait times in mental health services by the health authority. The most recent data publicly available is now more than a year old. Delorey said he’s been told the new system, which is intended to be more comprehensive, is expected to be online by the end of the month.
“It doesn’t mean data is not being tracked and used to help inform decisions,” he said. “The preference would be to have had this data posted sooner rather than later.”