May 25, 2017

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Critics call modest increase in health-care spending a bitter pill to swallow

<p>Concordia is one of three city hospitals losing its emergency department.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Concordia is one of three city hospitals losing its emergency department.

Just days after the Pallister government diagnosed Winnipeg can do without half of its emergency departments, the provincial budget has prescribed a modest increase in health-care spending.

But critics say it will be a bitter pill for Manitobans to swallow.

The province is increasing the $6.1-billion health budget by $107.5 million. It works out to be a 1.8 per cent increase from last year, but it is smaller than the 2.1 per cent increase in the province’s overall budget.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said overall health-care spending makes up almost half the province’s budget, yet Manitobans are still faced with hours waiting in emergency rooms and on waiting lists for certain types of surgery.

"We need better system alignment," Friesen said on Tuesday in his media briefing.

"If it was just about money, we’d have the best system in Canada. We are second in per capita spending… it’s of little benefit to have a five minute faster trip to the ER if they have waited seven hours."

Friesen said the new spending that is being announced is targeted into specific areas.

The province is adding $1.7 million into the budget to screen the hearing of all Manitoba newborns.

The budget also will see an increase of $8.8 million for kidney dialysis treatment and an additional $1.6 million to support mental health services.

Manitobans battling cancer will benefit from an extra $9.4 million for the province to purchase new cancer drugs while people who are rushed to hospital by ambulance will see $6.5 million spent to decrease ambulance fees.

The province will also buy two new ambulances to replace two Winnipeg ambulances and it will spend $1 million to keep three provincial nursing stations operating.

But critics say the real budget hit came a few days ago when the province announced the emergency rooms at Seven Oaks, Concordia and Victoria hospitals would be closed.

"The cuts we hear in the community are here," NDP health critic Matt Wiebe said. "They are through the entire system now. They will be felt by everybody. We are very concerned what this means for the public and health care in our community."

NDP MLA and party leadership candidate Wab Kinew said no one wanted to lose three emergency rooms.

"I think it is possible to get the budget balanced without closing emergency rooms," he said.

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said she is encouraged to see the money for dialysis and mental health, but is concerned about the closures of emergency rooms and the government wanting to hold the line on salaries when the nurses’ contract expired last month.

"There’s a lot of movement happening but we don’t know what the cost savings are," she said.

"And nurses are being asked to do more and more with less and less."

Former Liberal leader Jon Gerrard said he would like to see health care dollars go to other areas.

"There has been for many years an over-emphasis on acute care compared to prevention," Gerrard said. "One of the things we have to do is focus on keeping people healthy and preventing illness."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

 

Read more by Kevin Rollason.

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