Are you walking further than your fridge? Are we hard at work in our province, training the next generation of Alberta’s doctors? And isn’t our health care system really just a sick care system? These are the questions doctors are thinking about right now.
Earlier this week, the New Brunswick government released its plan for the health care system over the next five years. It called for many of the same things doctors, nurses, and others were looking for: a focus on primary care, improving our own health, and a focus on using technology to bring health care workers together. It also contained commendable steps, like reporting on provincial progress every year.
We agree with most of what’s in the plan because they're the same goals almost every government has had for our health system for decades. The challenge, as our Health Minister has accurately noted, is delivering on it. To expand on these generic themes requires leadership from the people who know the system. Doctors have just released our views on how we move the system forward – not a philosophy, but specific steps.
Too often over the last year, New Brunswickers have been presented with a false choice: save money, or improve health care. Those who would improve or enhance the system have been portrayed as spendthrift, unsustainable, or living in the past. But doctors know that in many ways, improving our system would also improve its sustainability. There's no choice to be made - we can choose both. For us, it starts with focusing on who we’re here for and why we should care. It’s about Care First.
Care First focuses on four themes and the specific steps we need to take – right now. We need to fix primary care, by using electronic medical records and ending billing numbers that prevent doctors from working where patients need them. We need to fix wait times, by paying hospitals differently and providing seniors with better options for care. We need to listen to front line professionals by involving them in decision-making throughout the system, rather than keeping them out. And most importantly, we need to focus on the health of New Brunswickers, to move from a sick care system to a health system.
In Care First, we get down into the details on each of these initiatives. In fact, we even estimated – very conservatively – the savings we can achieve in New Brunswick if we make the changes doctors have proposed. We found over $100 million in savings that can be achieved through building our system up, not cutting it down.
There are lots of good reasons why we have not yet been able to deliver on many of the Health Plans outlined over past decades in New Brunswick. There are good reasons why we have wait times in this province. There are good reasons why not every New Brunswick child has gym class every day. More importantly, there are good reasons why some parents have no choice – none – in what their children eat. But doctors believe that we as individuals and we as a province can be better.
So here`s the challenge for political parties as they consider the election that’s less than a year away: steal our ideas. Steal them all, every last one. Because we see 20,000 patients a day. We are dedicated to New Brunswickers’ health and believe strongly that they deserve a universal, publicly-funded health care system. It was given to us by a generation that fought far tougher battles than the one we fight today against paperwork, against obesity, against complacency. There’s no doubt that New Brunswickers have the resolve, brains, and passion to succeed - we see it in the faces of our patients in our offices and emergency rooms.
To hear more of our thoughts, you can find us on Facebook. You can find us when we speak to local community organisations over the next year, starting in Fredericton on October 21. You can see our posters in doctors` offices province-wide. We hope you will join us and remind politicians of all stripes what we need to do to improve our health and our health system: Care First.
Robert Desjardins, MD FRCPC
President of the New Brunswick Medical Society