New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the decision to cancel a series of health care reforms only five days after they were announced was made after people began asking questions he could no longer answer.
Higgs made the admission on Monday during a press conference to address his government’s decision — announced late Sunday — that they would kill a series of reforms that would’ve included the overnight closure of the emergency rooms at six community hospitals.
The changes would’ve affected departments in Sussex, Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls on March 11.
On Monday, the premier stressed that the initial implementation of the plan had not been “well thought out” and that it lacked support in rural areas of the province.
“Horizon and Vitalite health authorities have advised us — and we agreed — not to move forward with the implementation of the health-care reforms,” said Higgs.
“I am concerned by gaps that have been identified in the plan.”
The premier said that the CEOs of both health authorities had assured his government they were ready to roll out the plan and that the government had trusted their assessment.
He said the rash of criticism made him realize that they had missed talking to the communities that would be most affected by the proposed changes.
In order to correct that mistake, Higgs has promised that he will personally travel the province to consult rural residents about what is necessary to fix what he describes as a health care crisis in New Brunswick.
Consultations are scheduled for April and May.
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.
“If I’m in this position again, which I hope to be, that I have this plan to roll out and I have assurances we can do this… I will expect people to be accountable for delivering what they say they promised to deliver,” he said.
The reversal came after heavy criticism from municipal politicians, doctors, unions and other health care professionals.
A tenuous political situation for Higgs’ minority Progressive Conservative government didn’t help matters, with Robert Gauvin, the province’s deputy-premier, quitting on Friday in protest over the proposed reforms.
Gauvin said he would now sit as an independent, leaving the Tories and Liberals tied with 20 seats each in the provincial legislature.
On Monday, Higgs said he’s yet to have a discussion with the caucus, or with Gauvin, about coming back into the fold.
The decision to rescind the reforms by the PC government was welcomed by all three Opposition parties in the legislature.
Green Party Leader David Coon told media on Monday that Higgs “did the right thing” but that all parties must come up with a better way to address New Brunswick’s health care issues.
In a tweet, Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said that Higgs “has lost credibility and the trust of New Brunswickers over the health care cuts fiasco.”
“These cuts and further cuts to health care are still very much part of the Blaine Higgs agenda,” he wrote.
A series of protests against the proposed health care cuts were expected to continue on Monday despite the reversal from the province.
Marianne Bell, the mayor of Perth-Andover, said that a rally in her community would continue as scheduled at 2 p.m. AT.
“We will celebrate, articulate our priorities, & prepare for creative problem-solving as we work together to improve health care for ALL of us in #NB!” Bell wrote in a tweet.