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What do federal tax changes have to do with patient care in Nova Scotia?

Everybody is talking about the proposed federal tax changes and how they’ll affect small business owners, farmers and doctors.But what’s not really being discussed is how these changes will affect the thousands of Nova Scotians who are trying to get a family doctor. It’s estimated that 90,000 Nova Scotians don’t have a family doctor and more than 30,000 people sit on a wait list for one.

If the proposed federal tax changes go through, it may become even harder for Nova Scotians to get the care they need when and where they need it. Here’s why.

We need to keep the doctors we have

Nova Scotia’s doctors already have concerns about how they can practise medicine effectively in the current health-care system. Burdened by the physician shortage, they’re working long hours and taking on excessive patient loads. They feel disconnected from the system and from one another, disrespected by government and burnt out.

Doctors in Nova Scotia worry the proposed tax measures may push more physicians out of the province.

A recent survey by Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) confirms it. Of 864 Nova Scotia doctors surveyed, 451 said they’d consider leaving the province if the tax changes go ahead. Another 375 said they’d look at reducing the hours they work and 359 would consider offering different services or change how they practise.

This is a real concern.

Many family doctors have anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 patients on their rosters. The loss of just one doctor in a community can have devastating consequences for patient care and access.

We must improve access to care

Patients are struggling to access basic primary care and endure long waits for specialists. Our health-care system is so eroded that even patients with family doctors cannot get the care they need. Doctors are overworked and burned out. They’re also taking on patients for their colleagues who have already left the province.

As their workloads increase, doctors have to make tough choices: they may decide to cut back their hours, retire early or change the scope of services they provide. Ultimately, physicians are concerned about the impact these changes will have on their patients’ ability to access to care.

We need to recruit more doctors

Nova Scotia’s workforce is aging and so too is our physician workforce. One in five doctors in Canada is over the age of 60 and 12 percent are over age 65.

Recruiting more doctors is a key part of the solution. Physicians and their families looking for either urban or rural living can build the life they want in Nova Scotia. The province does offer picturesque towns, pristine beaches and outdoor adventures aplenty – selling points that do set us apart from the rest of Canada.

But we’re unique in other ways that make it tough to recruit doctors. Nova Scotia doctors are paid in the bottom third compared to doctors elsewhere in Canada. Nova Scotians also pay the highest taxes in the country. Many doctors, especially new doctors with student debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, flock to provinces that offer better work-life balance and better pay.

These special challenges facing our province are magnified by the proposed federal tax changes.

Doctors speak out on behalf of their patients

Four hundred physicians from across Nova Scotia packed a school cafeteria in Halifaxpacked a school cafeteria in Halifax on Sept. 23 to discuss the proposed federal tax changes and what it will mean for their patients.

Organized by DNS, the rally was a chance for doctors of all specialties, including family medicine, residents and medical students, to come together and voice their concerns over the proposed tax measures. About 75 percent of Nova Scotia’s doctors are incorporated.

A panel of doctors, including Drs. Leo Fares, Ken West, Tim Wallace and Lisa Bonang, described what it’s like to work as a doctor in Nova Scotia today. Doctors in the audience also shared their experiences and their fears about the proposed tax changes.

The rally was a chance for doctors to speak from the heart and advocate for their patients. And that’s exactly what they did.

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