N.B. opposition calls for health care details after premier’s private service comments

Click to play video: 'Concerns N.B. may expand private delivery of health-care services'
Concerns N.B. may expand private delivery of health-care services
WATCH: Premier Blaine Higgs has refused to rule out expanding the private delivery of some health-care services in the province. The comments made during a news conference have raised fears over the possible privatization of services. Silas Brown has more. – Aug 23, 2022

Opposition leaders say Premier Blaine Higgs is sparking fear after refusing to rule out greater use of private-sector delivery of health-care services.

After a meeting with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Higgs’ maritime counterparts in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, Higgs says all options were on the table to solve the province’s health care woes.

“All options are on the table to understand what are best practices, not only on our country but in other countries,” Higgs said while speaking about the issues being faced by the province’s system.

“Yes, things are going to change and yes, that could be in a different form and I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but I want medical professionals to give us their best ideas.”

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Higgs was careful to clarify that any health-care service delivered in the province will be publicly funded.

“I want to make it very clear is what we’re talking about here is publicly funded health care. So it’s not a case of health care not being publicly funded,” he said.

Liberal leader Susan Holt wants Higgs to clarify what is actually being considered.

“We need to be really clear about what private delivery is and how it’s structured and how we ensure access and equity because we don’t have that in the system we have now,” Holt said.

That lack of clarity is creating uncertainty as New Brunswickers already worried about their ability to access care fear the possibility of privatization and the introduction of a fee-for-service model that could allow some to jump the queue.

“People are really afraid that this is going to cost them more and that this is going to make it harder for them to access a health-care system that is already inaccessible to many,” Holt says.

Ontario recently announced that it will increase the number of surgeries in private clinics being funded by the province in order to help clear waitlist backlogs.

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In New Brunswick, a large number of services are rendered privately but paid publicly, where the physician performs a service and is then paid by the provincial government. A large portion of family doctors are effectively small business owners, paying rent, staff and utilities out of the money they receive from the province for treating patients.

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Green leader David Coon says the premier’s comments are a distraction from the real issues and the real solutions that are being pitched by doctors on the front lines.

“It causes a distraction in the public from what needs to be done to fix the public health-care system that we have,” Coon said.

“The proposals coming from nurses, the proposals coming from doctors, the proposals coming from their organizations don’t focus on that.”

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Canada’s new chief federal nursing officer applauds government on advocating for nurses

Coon referenced a 10-page report sent to provincial decision makers by Fredericton-area doctor Yogi Sehgal last week that had several proposals to begin tackling issues within the system. Sehgal suggested the province set up urgent primary care clinics to divert people from emergency rooms. That would be to subsidize the cost of bridging and upgrade programs for licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, as well as to create childcare facilities for hospital staff.

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The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, Dr. Mark MacMillan, said the proposals being circulated by many frontline professionals are sound, but what the system needs most is money.

“Physicians are requesting increased funding for the health-care system. Not for us, for the health-care system. We need to start paying our colleagues competitive remuneration so that we are the most attractive province in the country,” he said.

“We need to increase the salaries for our nurses, our personal care workers, all our allied health-care professionals so we can have those services properly staffed moving forward.

“Health care should be one of the best jobs in this province and most sought after, but right now we’re in a bit of a crisis where we don’t have enough people in our system, so it doesn’t look as attractive.”

The province increased the Health department’s budget by over six per cent this year, or $168 million. Higgs, along with the rest of the country’s premiers, has been vocal in calling on the federal government to increase the amount it sends to the provinces in health transfers.

Over the past two years, the province has posted unbudgeted surpluses of $408 million and $478.8 million and is projecting a surplus of $35 million this fiscal year.

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Higgs often speaks about the need for “innovation” in the system, but MacMillan said improvements rely on the staff to implement them.

“We’ve been innovating for the last 10 to 15 years,” MacMillan said, pointing to hernia surgeries that would have once hospitalized someone for at least two days, but are now done in a few hours.

“As the science advances, health care and health-care professionals innovate with that. What we need now is support to get our colleagues back to work, we need to hire new colleagues, we need to have the up-to-date equipment so we are being innovative and being efficient.

“If we do that, we will see more people move through the health-care system and you will see better outcomes.”

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