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Four key spending decisions Health

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THE government will continue to pump more funds into health care -- even as it freezes or cuts spending to 10 departments and agencies.

For the first time, Manitoba is budgeting to spend more than $5 billion to care for the health of its citizens, an increase of 3.5 per cent from last year. The increase is in the mid-range of health spending increases for Canadian provinces that have already brought down their budgets.

This year, the government promises to provide faster cancer testing and treatment and provide free cancer drugs for all patients -- including those undergoing treatment at home.

It also promises to train and hire more doctors, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and health technologists. And it vows to recruit more pathologists to Manitoba.

Also included in this year's budget is $1.3 million in added funding to help Manitobans to kick the smoking habit.

On Tuesday, the Free Press reported the province would reduce the number of regional health authorities to five from 11 in a bid to save $10 million in administrative costs over the next three years.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said Tuesday the government will look at several new initiatives in the coming year to improve patient care while saving the system money.

One of those will be to open a mental-health emergency room -- the first of its kind in Canada. Oswald said it will offer "intensive, community based therapy" for those who are "in a mental health crisis."

Currently, mental health patients across Canada aren't well-served in traditional ERs, Oswald said. "They tend to be the ones that have to wait the longest. They have the worse outcomes. So we're going to be looking within our department at what new things we can do that's even better care, that actually saves us money."

Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger scoffed at the government's plans to save $10 million over three years by amalgamating regional health authorities.

She said considering the 11 health authorities spent $159 million in administrative expenses in 2010-2011, the small savings are "a joke."

"They should be able to sharpen their pencils and do a little bit better than that," Driedger said of government officials.

She called the initiative a "smoke screen to try to detract from all of the tax increases (the government) made" in Tuesday's budget.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2012 B3

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Updated on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 7:43 AM CDT: Adds video

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