As Leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party, I recognize that we must undertake health care reform to address the challenges before us and to ensure quality health care for all New Brunswickers, now and into the future, regardless of where you live in the province.
However, my Liberal caucus shares the same concerns as citizens in all parts of this province that the Premier and his Health Minister embarked on an ill informed and poorly conceived plan, developed in isolation from the people on the front lines of our health care system -our health care professionals but also patients, family members, caregivers as well as community leaders. And they completely ignored the negative impact on our larger hospitals and our ambulance service when they decided to cut emergency room services in our smaller hospitals. We know that emergency rooms in the larger centres are under stress. Redirecting more patients to these centres without a plan or additional resources will compound the problem.
With the removal of acute care beds, patient admission and day surgery, these smaller hospitals will be transformed into nursing homes and we will see doctors and other health professionals leave these communities. The NB Medical Society has described in detail the complications to patient care which these changes would have produced in larger hospitals. It was indeed a lose-lose decision for all of us.
I’ve spoken to doctors, nurses, paramedics and leaders in the communities affected by the first wave of cuts. They have told me without hesitation that lives will be at risk if these reforms are allowed to proceed. I’ve spoken to people in these communities who say they won’t feel safe if these changes go ahead. These voices are the most important to me. I spent more than two decades with the RCMP and I know how important it is for people to feel safe.
That’s why our approach to strengthening our health care system will begin with keeping all our emergency rooms open 24 hours a day. If shortages of essential staff occur in any hospital necessitating a reduction of hours of operation, it will be temporary with the quickest possible return to full service. That is my commitment.
And I am equally committed to an open, honest discussion with New Brunswickers about the challenges in health care and how we can address them together. I am confident we can develop a plan that embraces the excellent health care we have now in our Province and which looks to the future in a positive way building on certain principles.
First, community health care must be improved to provide readily accessible primary care for all citizens. I am pleased that many family doctors are developing shared practices and I have visited wonderful community health clinics. This is the future – team approaches with doctors, nurse practitioners, paramedics, pharmacists, mental health specialists, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists working together. And the future will embrace new technologies such as video conferencing to deliver better health service in all our communities.
Our seniors will be given the respect and dignity they deserve. This is a defining principle for me. Extramural care must be strengthened. Too many hospital beds are occupied by those needing long term care. We will work with smaller hospitals and communities on how we can best provide more high quality residential care for seniors. We are already improving options with new hospices and initiatives to improve palliative care at home and we will continue to do so.
A focus on wellness and prevention is also a defining principle in our Liberal plan. Let’s target obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health and addiction. Let’s up our game on healthy workplaces, healthy eating including school breakfast and lunch programs, and healthy aging. And in our plan, a healthy environment will have the highest priority.
And finally as Liberals we will tackle the human resource challenges – recruitment, retention and an aging workforce – in a spirit of respect and collaboration with each health care professional organization and with our universities and colleges. We need to listen when our own people tell us that some of our HR practices are driving young professionals to other jurisdictions.
New Brunswick has so much to offer – affordable real estate, good schools, low crime rates, the best beaches and snowmobile trails, and internationally acclaimed culture. As Liberals we will look at specific recruitment strategies for rural communities just as we will sustain efforts to ensure our regional hospitals have the specialists they need to provide health care second to none. And I am fully committed to finding solutions to the employment issues plaguing our nursing homes. Quality care for our most vulnerable citizens demands nothing less.
These principles will define a Liberal framework to address our health challenges. But this spring in New Brunswick we are facing very serious challenges of trust and confidence when it comes to our health care system. Every day the story coming from the Premier and his government becomes more contradictory and convoluted. It has become an unbelievable blame game – the right questions weren’t asked, the numbers were wrong, the decisions were voted on or maybe they weren’t. And the Minister of Health states there has been enough consultation.
The Premier should stand up and take full responsibility for this mess. In my experience when someone’s story keeps changing, you can’t trust it. The government has lost touch with doctors, nurses, paramedics and with the citizens of New Brunswick. Many believe that these reforms are only the tip of the iceberg and that many other services and more hospitals will be cut. Many believe that Premier Higgs has only hit pause on his plan, and that if he can navigate his way through the upcoming session of the Legislature, he will see a green light to proceed regardless of the genuine concerns of citizens and health care professionals.
It’s not what will be said on budget day. It’s what won’t be said. Remember, there was no mention of cuts to rural hospitals in last year’s budget. Day by day, more New Brunswick citizens are losing confidence in their government.
On behalf of every person in our Province who lacks trust in Premier Higgs to work honestly on their behalf, especially to protect health care, the Liberal members will vote against the budget. We urge all members of the Legislature to weigh their decision on whether to support this government and its harmful agenda on healthcare or to support their communities and their constituents. For us, the choice is clear!
Leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party