July 20, 2024


It’s an aspect of the doctor shortage we rarely hear about but recently obtained data shows the number of newborns in Nova Scotia without a family doctor is climbing and it’s also raising concern for the health of newborns and their parents.


In a Freedom of Information request obtained by the Nova Scotia NDP party, number sow that nearly 16 per cent of registered births last year were referred to the Nova Scotia health’s Unattached Newborn Clinic or UNC.


The UNC is a Halifax based clinic on Mumford Road that cares for newborn babies who don’t have a family doctor or primary care provider and began operating in December 2022.


Early numbers show referrals to the UNC has steadily climbed each quarter and in 2023, of the more than 5, 900 registered births in Nova Scotia last year, around 941 newborns were referred to the clinic.


NDP health critics and Dartmouth-North MLA Susan Leblanc says the numbers reveal a troubling trend that speaks to the provinces doctor shortage and growing number of Nova Scotians who are without a doctor and on the need a family practice wait-list.


“It is unacceptable that there is an increasing number of infants who aren’t attached to a family physician or nurse practitioner. Under the Houston government, this problem is getting worse, not better,” said Leblanc in a press statement. “Everyone deserves access to primary care. Newborns especially need to be attached to a health-care provider who can monitor their health and development.”


Nova Scotia Health says the UNC is staffed by two full-time physicians who are either retired or support the clinic in their off time, along with a nurse practitioner, two family practice nurses and a registered nurse and are supported by a three clinical administrative staff.


Population growth, in particular in the Halifax region has increased the number of referrals to the UNC which initially average 30 to 40 per week, has now climbed to more that 100 newborn visits each week.


The NDP says now is good time for the province to expand it’s midwifery program which could help ease the strain and fill some gaps in the primary healthcare system.


“We need to have everyone attached to primary care in their own communities and we don’t have that,” said Leblanc. “My vision of primary care would be that we have primary care clinics all over the province where everyone is attached to a clinic, a health home and that health home would include midwives.”


CJ Blennerhassett is the vice president of the Association of Nova Scotia Midwives, they have been calling for expanded services to other communities across Nova Scotia.


“The world health organization states that people should be seen in that first six weeks after work at a minimum of three times, roughly three to six times and unfortunately we don’t meet that standard in most areas of our country….midwives do and so we think that midwives should be available for everyone who would like to request one.”


“When newborns don’t have attachment to a primary care provider, we see worse outcomes for the baby, and also for the family as a whole,” said Blennerhassett. “We see less rates of routine vaccinations, we see increasing emergency room use or use of acute care facilities, and we see people just really going without care.”


Currently the province has funding for 16 midwife positions, working at three locations in Nova Scotia, including eight practicing at the IWK Midwives clinic in Halifax, four working at the Highland Community Midwives in Antigonish, and four at the South Shore Community Midwives.


Blennerhassett says there is a growing request for midwifery services but more requests are turned down than they can accept.


“We would love to see every Nova Scotian have the option to have a midwife as their care provider,” said Blennerhassett. “In Nova Scotia we have a lot of folks as we know that are struggling to access primary care.”


Blennerhassett emphasized the UNC clinic is only for newborns and they don’t treat the birth parent, nor do they have a midwife on staff but would like to see that changed and the midwife program expanded beyond the three sites.


“What would help is utilizing midwives more in the provision of postpartum care for all patients across our system,” said Blennerhassett. “We really are eager and excited to play this role in our health care system and we are underutilized in this way.”


In a statement from the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness they acknowledged the important piece that midwifery plays in the healthcare system.


“We are very proud of the midwifery services and standards of care we provide in Nova Scotia. Although we are focused on stabilizing the midwifery service through recruitment and retention, we are also working with our system partners at NSH, IWK and Tajikeimɨk to look at different options and opportunities to expand the service.”


Nova Scotia Health urges anyone without family doctor or health team to register with the Need A Family Practice Registry, and suggest individuals complete the health questionnaire where they can indicate they are pregnant or have a newborn and connect with proper prenatal and newborn healthcare.


CTV News will have more on this story Tuesday as we speak with Nova Scotians who are pregnant or have a newborn and are without a family doctor.

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