SAINT JOHN (CNB) – High-risk patients in the Saint John area who are on the registry of people who do not have a physician will be provided interim primary care by local physicians.

The six-month pilot project is funded by the Department of Health and will allow the co-ordination of three local physicians working at the urgent care centre at St. Joseph's Hospital to provide care to patients most at risk. Eligible patients include people with multiple chronic illnesses; those who use blood thinners; and women requiring annual preventative health care such as a pap tests.

"I am grateful to the Saint John area physicians and to the staff of the Horizon Health Network, who worked together to develop this pilot project that will support vulnerable patients while work continues to find them a primary health care provider," said Health Minister Madeleine Dubé.."The Department of Health is pleased to support this effort as an interim measure to address the most pressing needs for access to primary care in the Saint John area."

To date, 367 patients have received care. Individuals on the registry will be contacted beginning with those at the top of the list. An initial screening will take place over the phone and if an individual is eligible for the service, an appointment will be made with a physician. The service will be by appointment only and provided from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, from St. Joseph's Hospital. Individuals who use blood thinners will be referred to anticoagulation clinics and women requiring preventative health care will be referred to Women's Health services located at other sites.

"We are pleased to offer this service, which will help provide higher risk patients with continuity of care and preventative care to reduce the risk of developing more serious health complications and possibly being hospitalized," said Donald J. Peters, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Health Network. "It will also allow patients to be seen in a more appropriate setting than an emergency department or after-hours clinic."

Horizon staff are optimistic that several family physicians will be recruited within the next year. Newly-recruited family physicians will take on patients from the registry. There are currently about 7,850 people on the registry. Individuals in the Saint John area who are without a family doctor can add themselves to the list by calling 506-648-6232.

The provincial government has committed to change primary health care as a way to increase access. The Primary Health Care Steering Committee held a summit last fall which brought together government policy and decision-makers, primary health care practitioners, health-care organizations, academics and community leaders. The committee will provide recommendations to the government in early 2012.