New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs abruptly cancelled a series of announced health-care reforms on Sunday, including the closure of the emergency rooms at six community hospitals overnight.
Higgs government faced a growing wave of public backlash after the health-care reforms were announced last week by Health Minister Hugh Flemming.
Doctors, unions and other health-care professionals called on the province to reverse the changes which would have seen emergency departments in Sussex, Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls be closed from midnight to 8 a.m
But those plans are now over, with Higgs saying he will visit those communities to “hear from community leaders, the people delivering care and concerned citizens.”
“I can’t in good conscience move forward without addressing the concerns and fears that have been brought to light,” said Higgs in a statement.
The decision to reverse comes amidst a tenuous political situation for Higgs’ minority Progressive Conservative government.
On Friday, Robert Gauvin, the province’s deputy-premier, quit the party in protest over the proposed reforms.
Gauvin told constituents in Shippagan-Lameque-Miscou that he will now sit as an Independent.
Gauvin’s departure left leaves the Tories and Liberals tied with 20 seats in the legislature, with Higgs speculating after the announcement that he’d weigh calling an election.
Higgs told media on Friday afternoon that he didn’t feel good about the position he was in but was committed to the course his government had chosen.
“Doing the right thing sometimes comes at a cost. You either get it done or people don’t accept it,” he said.
Higgs added that he was going to meet with the PC Caucus to decide the government’s next move. It appears the decision was made to reverse the changes.
The mayor of one of the communities that would have been affected by the closures welcomed the decision on Sunday evening.
“I am so thankful and I am just ecstatic that the government listened to the concerns of the people,” Marianne Bell, the mayor of Perth-Andover, told Global News on Sunday.
“I am absolutely over the moon. I am so happy for the people in my community and the surrounding areas, for the hospital staff, for the people.”
Bell said she looks forward to the consultations with the province, which are scheduled for April and May.
The decision was also welcomed by the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society who said there were “many unanswered questions with government’s previously announced plan” in a statement.
“Meaningful health system change requires that health-care providers and community leaders be at the table and involved in fact-based discussions with government,” said Dr. Chris Goodyear.
“Physicians are prepared to work closely with the province, health authorities, and community leaders to improve our health system to benefit all New Brunswickers and to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.”
Higgs has also committed to a provincial health-care summit in June that will have the “goal of developing a strategy to ensure a sustainable and reliable public health-care system for the future.”
Findings from the consultations and the summit will then be released this fall.
Despite the change in course, Higgs seemed to issue a veiled warning in his statement on Sunday.
“An aging demographic coupled with a growing labour force shortage is hampering our ability to provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” said the premier.
“But we need people in this province to be part of the solution and that must start with hearing from the people most impacted.”
Higgs is expected to address the decision on Monday morning.
With files from The Canadian Press