B.C. budget: Billions earmarked for health care, addictions treatment

Click to play video: 'Highlights from B.C. budget 2023'
Highlights from B.C. budget 2023
WATCH: The provincial government has unveiled its budget for 2023 and it includes a lot of spending. Legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey and legislative reporter Richard Zussman have the details. – Feb 28, 2023

British Columbia’s 2023-2024 is earmarking nearly $6.4 billion in new spending over the next three years to bolster the province’s health care system, including a new mental health and addictions strategy.

More than $2.3 billion of that money will come this year, and see health spending in B.C. grow to $28.6 billion, more than a third of the entire provincial budget.

The budget anticipates that provincial spending will grow to more than $30.6 billion by 2025-2026.

Mental health and addictions plan

Included in the new spending is $1 billion for mental health addictions over the next three years, $199 million of it this fiscal year.

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Of the three-year pool of money, $568 million will go to new treatment and recovery beds along with wraparound services and Indigenous treatment centres and recovery communities.

“Our focus will be on expanding supports across the spectrum of care for people struggling with addiction,” Finance Minister Katrine Conroy told the legislature in her Tuesday budget speech.

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“We all know that a health response is needed – not a criminal justice one.”

The funding will be used to create 195 new fully subsidized treatment beds, 95 of which will be located at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. The location of the other 100 beds has yet to be determined.

The budget does not, however, include funding to remove fees from or further subsidize existing treatment beds, a key plank of the Opposition BC Liberals’ mental health and addictions plan.

The budget pledges the development of a model of “seamless care” to support people from detox to aftercare, starting with investments in Road to Recovery, a joint initiative between Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health, with the goal of expanding to other regions. The province also plans to expand the treatment model from Coquitlam’s Red Fish healing Centre provincewide.

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Another $184 million over three years will go to B.C.’s toxic drug crisis, including prevention and early intervention, expanded access to a prescribed safer supply of drugs, and expanded Peer-Assisted Care Teams and “Car” crisis programs that pair police with mental health nurses.

A further $169 million in capital funding will go to the building of new complex care housing for people dealing with the most difficult drug and mental health issues, with $97 million in operating funding for complex care sites.

Recruitment, retention of health-care workers

Elsewhere on the health file, the province is putting up $2.6 billion, $556 million of it this year, in new general funding for services across the health-care system.

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The three-year fiscal plan funds almost another $1 billion, $273 million of it this year, through its health workforce strategy announced last year, to recruit and retain healthcare workers, rebalance workloads and add training seats at post-secondary institutions.

The budget anticipates the money will help fund 3,000 new post-secondary training seats and cover nearly 12,000 bursaries and 9,000 training grants.

The funding is also directed towards funding 1,700 new health-care positions and “targeted financial incentives” meant to shore up critical staffing needs.

It comes as hospitals in rural and remote communities have faced regular closures and diversions due to a shortage of available doctors and nurses.

An additional $1 billion over three years, $400 million of it this fiscal year, will go to implement B.C.’s new payment model for family doctors.

That model, which took effect on Feb. 1, moves away from the fee-for-service model where doctors operate clinics as a business and are paid on a per-patient basis.

The new factors in the number of patients doctors see, how long they spend with them and how complex their cases are, offering a pay package previously estimated to be in the range of $385,000 per year.

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The budget also earmarks $270 million to fund improved cancer screening, diagnostic imaging and treatments like radiation therapy announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix earlier this month.

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