The New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) is pleased to learn that the provincial government is considering striking an all-party caucus on health-care reform, as discussed during question period in the legislature on June 7, 2019.
We believe Green Party leader David Coon’s suggestion to create this caucus to “restructure” health care is a tremendous opportunity for our province, and we are pleased that Health Minister Ted Flemming also sees value in it. As Minister Flemming put it, “if there ever was a subject that we should work together on, it should be our health care.” We agree.
With the legislature now closed for the summer, it is imperative that we keep the conversation on health-care reform moving ahead. We trust that all political parties would agree. In their respective campaign platforms prior to last fall’s election, it was clear that all parties had ideas to improve our province’s health-care system. Each made pledges in their platforms to support the recruitment of more physicians and medical staff such as nurses, nurse practitioners, and paramedics.
After the Higgs minority government was elected, the NBMS challenged all elected MLAs to work together to maintain a functioning government with a vision and mission to address the challenges that our health-care system is facing. An all-party caucus seems like an effective way to put aside partisan issues and tackle one of the most important issues facing our province: New Brunswickers need better, more accessible health care.
As the NBMS and others have stated repeatedly, New Brunswick’s population is struggling with a variety of chronic health conditions, and our health-care system has numerous gaps and systemic challenges that prevent us from improving the health of New Brunswickers, from a lack of primary care access to lengthy wait times to chronically overcrowded hospitals.
There is no shortage of health-care issues requiring action, but the NBMS would offer three suggestions in need of immediate action: improving the recruitment and retention of physicians, nurses, and other critical health-care professionals to improve access to primary care; eliminating violence in hospitals and health-care facilities; and bolstering the federal health funding transfers to the Atlantic provinces.
Improving recruitment and retention of health-care professionals is an obvious starting point — the shortage of physician and nurse resources has been covered extensively in the media in recent months and has led to numerous hospital department closures and delays in receiving care.
It goes without saying that violence in the health-care setting must be swiftly dealt with. We are deeply concerned with two recent reports of alleged abuse to nursing staff in Moncton. Physicians, nurses, and other health and administrative staff can not and should not be forced to work in dangerous environments.
And finally, the federal health funding transfer is another critically important issue for New Brunswick. Economist Richard Saillant is projecting that the price tag of our aging province is ballooning the cost of health care by 1.5 to two per cent annually. With inflation and the growth of other costs in the system, Saillant told the Telegraph-Journal recently that health spending could grow at close to five per cent each year, an unsustainable rate for a province struggling with a $15-billion debt.
Minister Flemming has stated that the province must revisit the health transfer agreement with the federal government. The NBMS and Canadian Medical Association believe that the current fiscal arrangement between the federal and provincial governments do not reflect the costs associated with caring for an aging population.
With the federal election only a few short months away, the NBMS believes now is the time to advocate for a better agreement for New Brunswick, and we urge all New Brunswick MLAs and MPs to prioritize this issue.
The NBMS would be pleased to play a role with the all-party caucus, regional health forum, or any other discussions surrounding the future of health care in New Brunswick.
Dr. Serge Melanson, CCFP-EM
President, New Brunswick Medical Society