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Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston on July 12.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

One year after making Nova Scotia’s struggling health-care system the centre of his election campaign, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston is being slammed by the two main opposition parties for what they say is his failure to deliver.

The governing Progressive Conservatives have not done enough to address doctor shortages, surgery delays and recurring emergency room closures, the Liberals and New Democrats said Wednesday in separate statements.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the state of the health-care system has reached a crisis with the number of Nova Scotians searching for a doctor jumping from 70,000 a year ago to more than 105,000 today. Meanwhile, life-saving surgeries are being delayed by months, if not years, and emergency rooms are often closed because of staff shortages, he added.

“A year ago today, Nova Scotians chose Tim Houston to be premier because he promised to fix health care,” Churchill said. “But in that year, our health-care system has reached a crisis state.”

The Tories surged to a surprise election victory last summer, with a campaign focused on health care. Houston’s Progressive Conservatives unseated the governing Liberals after promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars during their first year in office to address issues in the system.

Houston made good on that election promise, budgeting $5.7-billion for health care last spring – an increase of $413.4-million compared to the previous year under the Liberals. The premier, however, has also cautioned Nova Scotians that it would take time for them to see substantive changes.

Houston issued a statement Wednesday saying his government’s top priority is still health care. He said the plan he released in April for improving the system is being implemented.

“The changes needed to improve our health-care system are very significant and they will take time,” he said. “But we will start seeing results more quickly in the months and years to come.”

As an example, Houston cited his government’s doctor recruitment efforts, which he said have led to a record number of doctors coming to Nova Scotia over the past year.

As well, Houston said his government increased wages for continuing care assistants, added 200 nursing seats for students across the province, offered jobs to every nurse graduating in Nova Scotia and made it easier for graduating paramedics to start working in their field.

But NDP Leader Claudia Chender says too many Nova Scotians are feeling left on their own to figure out how to get the care they need.

In the last 12 months, almost 10,000 people in the province’s eastern zone left an emergency department without being seen – an annual increase of 47 per cent, the party said in a statement Wednesday.

“As Tim Houston celebrates his election anniversary, people who need health care are being told to wait,” Chender said.

“Today, more families are without a family doctor, more people are leaving the ER without being seen, surgery wait times are longer and people are being forced to pay out of pocket for care they need.”

Chender cited the example of Glace Bay, N.S., resident Ellen Bryden, who recently spent $2,000 to help her mother get an emergency eye operation that could only be done in Halifax. Bryden had to pay for gas, hotels and a rental a car.

“When I talk to people across the province, health care is top of mind for everyone,” Chender said. “Tim Houston’s choices aren’t working for people, waits have gotten longer, the distance and cost to travel for care have increased, or people simply can’t get care at all.”

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