The stars have aligned for making long-overdue changes to the health-care system in Newfoundland and Labrador, says the association representing doctors in the province.
Dr. Lynette Powell, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA), says she welcomed the appointment last week of Sister Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Patrick Parfrey as co-chairs of the province’s 10-year Health Accord Task Force.
“I think they are good choices,” Powell said in a recent interview. “I think both of them have extensive experience and I think they’re going to be approaching this from the right perspective.”
The NLMA presented its own ideas about primary care structure four years ago.
“We suggested that, moving forward, we did have to look at the health-care system in a more evidence-based way,” she said. “My hope would be that this type of arrangement will allow us to have some of these conversations that do need to be had.”
Powell noted that Newfoundland and Labrador is the least competitive province in the country in terms of compensation for primary care.
“More important than that, we really lack the structures in primary care to attract young physicians who really want to work in team-based modelled care,” she said. “In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have never really planned a system that would allow a new graduate from Memorial University to walk into a clinic setting where they work as part of an integrated, multidisciplinary team.”
Powell said decisions in the province have too often been political and short-sighted.
“We tend not to look at the system as a whole, and we tend to fill gaps in places and in pieces of the system without really asking the question, is the service delivery here the best that it can be for the patient?”
The association has compared the need for an overhaul to an undertaking by the Australian island of Tasmania, which completely reimagined how it provides primary care, medical transportation and emergency services to rural communities.
“We lack that now, and then we have trouble maybe servicing some of these communities,” Powell said,” so it really leaves these people feeling very vulnerable in places like St. Alban’s when there’s no physician there. And that’s not an infrequent occurrence these days, unfortunately.”
But she said the task force’s pledge to examine social determinants of health — external factors such as diet and poverty — is a big plus.
Last week, Davis and Parfrey said they are keenly aware of the NLMA’s work.
“The NLMA has put together a plan on primary care that is progressive, that involves interdisciplinary teams and endeavours to deal with the weaknesses in the current primary care system,” Parfrey said. “I think our task force will evaluate that and make recommendations concerning primary care.”
He said the task force will focus on community care as a whole, including primary care, elder care, social care and public health.
Davis added that other health professions have also approached them since the appointment was announced.
“It’s good to know that appetite is there among the health professionals right across the spectrum,” she said.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram.