December 26, 2020
Attn: Hon. Dorothy Shephard, Minister
Dear Minister Shephard:
RE: Health Consultation
Further to your correspondence of November 20, 2020 wherein you outline the challenges facing healthcare in New Brunswick and ask members of the Legislative Assembly to provide their vision for quality healthcare in our communities, I would like to take this opportunity to respond on behalf of the Liberal Caucus.
We have a healthcare system built over many years with the contribution of many experts and governments. As your government is seeking to make significant changes to the New Brunswick healthcare system, it is critical to recognize and appreciate the complexity and interconnectivity of all our healthcare services. The task of obtaining legitimate ideas for improvement cannot possibly be accomplished over a three-month period.
Challenges in the delivery of healthcare services cannot be ignored. The focus needs to be on accessibility and quality healthcare programs that will serve both urban and rural communities throughout the province and meet the needs of New Brunswickers, now and into the future.
Like many New Brunswickers, we were dismayed with the announcement by government in February of this year to reduce the hours of service for Emergency Rooms in the communities of Sackville, Sussex, Perth-Andover, Saint-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls. While we were relieved that the Premier decided to back away from these cuts, we were somewhat alarmed with his explanation that he did not realize there were “gaps in the rollout plan that could not be answered”. This is alarming because it shows that the government was prepared to move forward with significant changes to our healthcare system without having a complete understanding of the implications of doing so and without having carried out meaningful consultations that would have informed its decision-making.
It is this careless approach to healthcare reform that we must safeguard against and as the Official Opposition, we are insisting that the upcoming consultations provide the opportunity for all communities and the general public to share their insights and ideas.
We recognize that the Covid19 pandemic has changed many of the ways in which governments in general engage in public consultations, but this should not be an excuse to limit those consultations.
We are concerned that these consultations would only permit a select group of invited stakeholders to participate.
We know that there are existing health plans already in place within your government. These have been referenced in the media by the health authorities and your government. These plans involve deep cuts to health services.
Improving our healthcare system cannot be merely an accounting exercise. New Brunswickers deserve access to quality healthcare services regardless of where they reside in our province and should not be disadvantaged by geography.
Additionally, the fact that you have established such a short timeline for consultations with stakeholders makes one question whether this consultation is merely a PR exercise to be used as cover in trying to justify the healthcare changes your government has already decided upon.
The consultation process outlined will not take place until sometime in the new year and is scheduled to be completed by March. Your government has indicated that it will move forward with extensive health reforms that would totally change the way healthcare services are delivered and address the numerous challenges that are facing us. This consultation which you claim will be province-wide will take place in less than a 3-month period in the middle of a pandemic, when our healthcare system and our healthcare professionals are focussed on preventing widespread transmission of the disease and providing for the rollout of vaccinations.
If you are genuinely interested in meaningful consultation, then the consultation process must be revisited. The future of our healthcare system is too important for a rushed, inadequate, invitation-only consultation process.
We would respectfully request that a select all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly be struck to undertake an open, transparent, and properly designed consultation process that would permit stakeholders including healthcare professionals, subject matter experts, frontline workers, communities and the general public to participate. It should have the power to invite presenters to share their insights and ideas. This consultation cannot be constrained by a three-month timeline. We must recognize the challenges of the pandemic and take the appropriate time required to conduct a thorough consultation.
Part of the mandate of the select committee would be to establish a more realistic timeframe to ensure there is sufficient time for stakeholder consultation. Area of discussions would be around health delivery, human resource needs and gaps, scopes of practice, long term care and involve the many facets of our health system. This cannot possibly be undertaken under the compacted consultation timeframe your government is proposing.
The Liberal Caucus would be pleased to play an active role in the select committee that would facilitate engagements and discussions on improvements to our healthcare system. We look forward to your response.
Roger Melanson, Leader
Office of the Official Opposition
Jean-Claude D’Amours, Critic for Health
Office of the Official Opposition