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Nova Scotia's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldAdrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia’s heath authority has placed a 30-day hold on referrals to its medical assistance in dying program because of an increase in demand.

Nova Scotia Health says the program this year has already exceeded the total number of referrals received last year.

The head of the program, Dr. Gord Gubitz, says his priority is focusing on those on the waiting list.

As well, the health authority says it will hire a nurse practitioner to help with the backlog.

Gubitz says it’s important for the program to remain transparent about the potential for extended wait times.

Medical assistance in dying has been legal in Canada since June 2016, and eligibility criteria include requirements that recipients have a serious, irreversible illness or disability and are experiencing unbearable physical or mental suffering.

“We know that awaiting … an assessment or procedure can be a source of increased distress and anxiety for patients, their families, and others who provide support to them,” Gubitz said in a statement.

This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.