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New Brunswick’s health care system is about to be hit by a perfect storm

Our health care budget has doubled in the last ten years. In the time it takes to read my words, taxpayers will spend $10,000 on health care. And while this is happening, the federal government is committed to a plan that will see health transfers to New Brunswick decrease in relative value over the next ten years.

At the same time, New Brunswickers live among the least healthy lives in the country by nearly every measure. Our rates of smoking are higher than the national average. We come in first or second every year for the dubious distinction of being the ’largest’ province in the country. We have low rates of vegetable consumption, physical activity, and income. And 70% of us have a chronic disease.

If we don’t start doing things differently, the storm will come. And as a doctor, I see the clouds building every day.

At the same time I’m worried about our system and my patients, I understand what it’s like; as of this fall, I, the President of the New Brunswick Medical Society, will not have a family doctor. Mine will retire, and she sure has earned it. But I also have a chronic disease, and I need a doctor too. I need a plan. And on a provincial level, our system badly needs a plan – for the 50,000 New Brunswickers like me with no family doctor; for the very ill patients who badly need catastrophic drug coverage; for the senior stuck in hospital because there’s no safe place for them to go. We need a plan.

The Minister of Health knows this, and to her credit, she’s tackling it. She’s creating a plan to guide the health system over the next four years. She’s been around the province talking to providers and the public about what kind of health system they want. She also invited groups to tell her their ideas.

Doctors know that we need to show leadership in our health care system. So when we asked for ideas from doctors, we heard from 400 doctors across the province. We took what we heard and sent it to the Minister for her consideration. We’re heavily anticipating the release of her plan later this year.

But we want New Brunswickers to know what doctors think, in the hopes that it will spark a conversation at your dinner table; at the coffee shop; and in the legislature. We want people talking about health care because our health system improves when we talk about it – and follow our talk with action. 

Our plan will be released to the public tomorrow. In it, we ask government to open up the management of the system to work more with doctors and other care providers. We ask for a Childhood Obesity strategy for our province. We want to see confusing hospitals easier to navigate for seniors. We think it’s time to end bureaucratic squabbles over which Department pays for what when we know it comes out of the same taxpayer’s wallet. We want to see a structured, adult dialogue about how we can best serve patients in both official languages across the province.

Even since our proposal was submitted, government has shown some action. We applaud the moves to renew primary care and we’re active partners in delivering electronic medical records to providers around the province. Both of these were just announced, and we’re happy to note progress. But there’s more work to do.

A better system, four years from now, will empower doctors and other professionals in their leadership roles; will support New Brunswickers in becoming one of the healthiest populations in the country; and will have made intelligent investments to reap long-term dividends. We won’t solve these problems overnight – but we didn’t get here overnight, either.

Today, over twenty thousand New Brunswickers will see a doctor.  My colleagues and I will make recommendations to the patients who come to us for help. It is ultimately up to every patient to decide whether or not to heed our advice, and the same is true for this process. But we put our ideas on the table, and are committed to working with patients to see them through good days and bad. Doctors are keen to see change and are leading it on the ground in our communities. You’ll see more from us, particularly on how we can lead healthier lives. 

We’re living through turbulent times in New Brunswick. Let’s make changes now. Let’s avoid the storm.

Robert Rae, MD FRCPC
President, New Brunswick Medical Society