Two recent articles involving health care in New Brunswick are cause for concern for our public system.
The articles demonstrate the current provincial government does not want to improve the health care system. Instead, Premier Blaine Higgs makes statements that demonstrate he wants to continue doing what lead us into the current crisis and the only change he values is pushing for more private sector involvement.
Let’s begin by looking at how Higgs is pushing an old idea that has failed both those working in the system and the population at large.
In a Feb. 22 CBC article, the Premier made the following statements:
“If every doctor in our province took two or three more patients a week, we wouldn’t have a backlog,” Higgs said.
“Every one of us has to find out a way that we can deliver health care differently, because I think, unanimously, we’ll all say just putting more money into an unmanaged system isn’t going to fix it,” he said.
This is Higgs playing the hits when it comes to his thoughts on health care.
His statement regarding doctors seeing more patients is a refrain he and other politicians have been pushing for years in health – telling workers to do more with less. It’s what has gotten the system to this crisis point. Underfunding, coupled with not enough staff are the major issues facing NB health care.
The statement also completely dismisses the fact that health care workers have been pushed to the breaking point over the past three years, asking them to do more is just insulting.
Higgs statement about money not solving the problem is off base for a few reasons. First, he’s actively kept money out of the system.
He used funds from Ottawa during the pandemic designed to help people to prop up his budgets. Recording record surpluses has not resulted in better investment.
His government will say they have invested the most in health care, but with the costs of service going up every year, it’s technically a true statement, but it really means they’re maintaining the status quo which is simply not good enough.
The only time he will put extra funds in health care, is if it lines the pockets of private sector health providers.
Take for instance the CBC article also from Feb. 22, 2023:
Vitalité Health Network spent nearly $6 million last year to hire nurses from private agencies, according to documents obtained under the Right to Information Act….
Meanwhile the provincial government has also used agency nurses, documents obtained by the New Brunswick Nurses Union show.
From January to April 2022, the government paid $2.68 million to Canadian Health Labs. This money was used, among other things, to dispatch nurses to COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
This is troubling because it’s a problem made by consecutive governments. Not hiring enough health care professionals has become what basically amounts to policy for decades.
The story goes on to include the following:
The average cost per hour worked by a travelling nurse was $295. This includes nurses’ salaries — $70 to $100 an hour, about twice as much as their permanent colleagues — as well as travel and administrative costs.
The arrival of these health workers in hospitals often creates unease, according to first vice-president, Maria Richard.
“The members tell us that they understand why these nurses come, but they find it a lack of respect,” she said.
What bothers some nurses, she said, is that their agency colleagues are much better paid and need more coaching.
“In everyday work, they have to be trained and supported more because they are not there [permanently] and they are not used to doing this work,” said Richard.
This amounts to paying more for less in terms of service.
To sum it up, when it comes to those employed by the province working day after day in the system, the Premier needs them to do more with less resources and funding.
When it comes to the private sector, the floodgates to the public coffers are open and the expectations are much lower.
Susie Proulx-Daigle is the president of the New Brunswick Union, which includes health care workers.