As the health-care system in Nova Scotia prepares for whatever will come as a result of COVID-19, the provincial regulators for doctors and nurses are taking steps to make reinforcements available.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia College of Nursing have both announced steps to grant licences to recently-retired practitioners and to people licensed to practise medicine or nursing in other parts of Canada who want to come here to help.
Dr. Gus Grant, CEO of the college of physicians and surgeons, said the move comes following conversations with his counterparts across the country. Any doctor who retired in the last 2½ years can contact the college and follow a process that would get them an emergency licence until June 30.
“The licensure will be restricted to the pandemic response at the direction of either the [Nova Scotia Health Authority] or IWK [Health Centre],” Grant said in a phone interview.
He said the college would also take a look at whether similar measures could be taken for doctors who have been retired for longer so they could also help the system in some capacity, at a time when people are coming forward to offer their services.
“Physicians, by their very nature, want to help, and we want to make sure we don’t get in the way of that,” Grant said.
The licence for recently-retired nurses would be for four months or longer if required and available for anyone who worked in the province as a nurse in the last five years, has no restrictions on their previous licence and is able to safely practise nursing.
A spokesperson for the college said there would be no restrictions on the licence, although anyone temporarily returning to work would need to ensure they’re being placed in a situation they can handle.
“Employers should consider each nurse’s individual knowledge, skills and judgment and where best they can serve the public,” college CEO Sue Smith said in a news release.
Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton said there would be plenty of work opportunities for people, including through 811 and other areas of the system that might see staff shortages in the case of people returning from vacations that require them to self-isolate.
Hazelton said nurses she’s talked with are doing well and are more than capable of dealing with whatever situation presents itself in hospitals, but a major concern developing is with child care, she said.
On Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that schools and regulated daycares would close at least until sometime next month. That’s going to create a strain on the health-care workforce, said Hazelton.
“They’re concerned about, going forward, who’s going to care for their children when they have to go to work,” she said in a telephone interview.
“I’m hoping that family members of nurses that are working from home will be willing to care for their nieces, nephews, whomever.”
Another potential source of help for health-care workers materialized this week.
‘We want to be able to help’
As their classes have been cancelled or moved online, students at Dalhousie University’s medical school are offering child-care services and other volunteer activities to frontline health-care workers in need of a hand.
That can also include grocery and pharmacy runs, checking in on seniors or vulnerable people or anything else someone might need, said Freddy Lee, a second-year medical student at Dalhousie.
Lee said the idea is the result of talks among medical student society presidents across the country who wanted to help front-line health-care workers in a time of great need and stress.
“We want to be able to help out in any way,” he said in a phone interview.
“I think that providing this level of support for the health-care professionals, for our front-line workers, is really valuable and is much needed at this time.”
Lee said students from other allied health schools, such as nursing, social work and physiotherapy, are also pitching in on the effort. Students looking to volunteer or health-care workers in need of help are encouraged to email DalStudentsForHCPs@gmail.com.
Lee said student volunteers would be following a series of safety protocols based on public health guidelines and anyone providing child care would have previous experience.
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