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Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston fields a question at a meeting in Halifax on March 21, 2022.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia signed a bilateral health care funding agreement with Ottawa on Wednesday that will deliver it $355-million in federal money over three years, for use in improving access to primary care, reducing backlogs and wait times, supporting mental-health services and providing greater access to health data. But the province’s Official Opposition Liberals say Premier Tim Houston’s government has already thrown cash at the health care system without result, and needs to consider a change of tack.

Nova Scotia is the fourth province to sign a health care funding deal with Ottawa, after British Columbia, Alberta and Prince Edward Island struck similar agreements late last year. The tailored bilateral deals are part of a $196-billion, 10-year national health accord Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to premiers last February.

In exchange for its share of the funding, Nova Scotia has pledged to expand mental-health and addiction services, and support people without family doctors by increasing access to care through community health centres, mobile health services and virtual urgent care. Mr. Houston’s Progressive Conservative government has said it also plans to expand digital health systems.

“We’re actively building the health care system all Nova Scotians need and deserve, and we are pleased the federal government shares our vision and will provide some additional funding to support us in our work,” Nova Scotia’s Health and Wellness Minister, Michelle Thompson, said in a statement.

Prior to signing the agreement at the Halifax Infirmary on Wednesday, federal Health Minister Mark Holland said the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic had placed an extraordinary burden on health care workers.

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“There was a lot of burnout, a lot of backlogs. It meant that our system fell under tremendous strain,” he said, adding that this had incentivized the federal government to start working with provinces to ensure every Canadian has access to a family health team.

“This agreement with Nova Scotia is going to have an appreciable difference,” he said.

While Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said he’s happy to see the influx of cash for health care, he added that the provincial government’s approach in recent months has not led to improvements. He said he is worried the government isn’t focused enough on getting people family doctors, which he said has led to increased wait times for specialists and emergency care.

Provincial government statistics show that more than 148,000 people – or 15 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population – were without family doctors in the province as of Dec. 1, 2023.

More people died in Nova Scotia ERs in the first nine months of 2023 than in all of 2022, according to data gathered by the Nova Scotia NDP through freedom of information requests and shared with The Globe and Mail.

And a Fraser Health study released last month said Nova Scotia has the longest health care wait times in the country.

“This money needs to be used smartly, not just to go chase headlines down, but to actually achieve outcomes for patients to make the situation better,” Mr. Churchill said.

The federal funding will support Nova Scotia’s plan to deliver improvements to its health care system by 2026. The provincial government plans to grow the proportion of Nova Scotians who have regular access to a health care provider to 88 per cent; increase the number of family physicians, nurse practitioners and registered nurses in the province; and improve working conditions for health care professionals.

The province is also developing a single system for patient records and treatments, launching initiatives intended to improve health outcomes for Indigenous patients, and adding three walk-in youth mental health treatment centres by 2025-26, with five more under development.

Progress on these initiatives and broader commitments will be measured against targets, which Nova Scotia has committed to reporting on annually.

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