Premier Blaine Higgs says he’s willing to spend some of the province’s projected surplus of $135 million on the health-care system, as long as there’s “a return on that investment.”
Earlier this week the province announced that its projected surplus had jumped by $100 million to $135 million following stronger than expected revenue growth in the first quarter. Since then, Higgs has been under pressure to put that money back into the province’s ailing health-care system.
The premier says he’s open to that, but only if results are going to follow.
“If a doctor comes to me, a professional of any kind comes to me, and says, ‘If you fund this, I’ll deliver this,’ and it means better results for customers and patients of our province, we’ll be there,” he said.
In this year’s budget, health spending increased by over six per cent or $168.5 million, the largest year-over-year bump in more than a decade. Higgs tweeted last month that the budget “funded the change we need” to improve the health-care system and was quick to point to the bump in health spending when speaking to reporters on Thursday.
But when speaking about the province’s projected surplus, a number not far off from the amount the health budget increased this year, Higgs suggested that it would do little to improve the system.
“When you look at the money, the $135 million compared to our $11 billion budget, if you had $100 that’s 13 cents. So in the scope of what we spend every day it’s not money in the bank,” he said.
But that’s more than enough to get started on priorities that have been outlined by health-care professionals according to Green Party leader David Coon.
“As doctors and nurses repeatedly say, they have been proposing significant changes that would really make a difference for a decade and yet they haven’t seen any of them implemented,” he said.
Coon points to primary care clinics as an example, where those without family doctors could go to to receive primary care. The creation of those clinics and elimination of the patient connect list is one of the measures due to be completed by the end of the month according to the province’s five year health plan, but have yet to materialize.
“That would be where I’d see that money go immediately if I were the premier,” Coon said.
Part of the projected $135-million surplus is money earmarked specifically for health care. The federal government sent $41 million to the province to help clear surgical backlogs and while the province says that money will be spent by the end of the year, Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D’Amours questions why it isn’t being used now.
“It’s the same premier that is saying we need more money from the federal government, but please, spend it. Please make sure that people who have needed a surgery for a long time can have their surgery,” he said.