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Lunacy repeating itself?

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Say it ain’t so, Gordon. Say it ain’t so.

Word out of B.C. is that the conservative Liberal government of Gordon Campbell is considering cuts to health care services to help it deal with the economic downturn. B.C. New Democrats produced a briefing note from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority outlining plans to eliminate thousands of elective surgeries, close emergency rooms and hospital beds.

This allegation comes of the heels of another from the left coast NDP that similar cuts are being proposed for the Fraser Health Authority, which represents citizens living east of Vancouver.

Times are tough, but would any provincial government actually consider repeating the cuts that were made to health care in the naughty 1990s?

You might remember that following a federal Liberal government decision to slash transfer payments to the provinces, the provinces were forced to cut funding to health care, education and social services. The impact on health care is still being felt today.

Health care infrastructure suffered. Hospital beds were rationalized. Innovation was shelved in favor of treading water. The provinces actually started to cut back on the number of doctors and nurses they were training out of a fear that too many of both group was driving up health care costs.

More than 15 years after the first cuts started, it is more or less a consensus that strategy was a catastrophe. It did lower costs in the short term, but the long-term costs of restoring beds, funding more surgeries and training more doctors and nurses have more than erased any early savings.

The problem for the provinces, of course, is that health care remains the highest single cost for government. If a province needs to cut costs, then it will need some savings from health care.

Unfortunately, that would be penny wise and pound foolish, just as it was more than a decade ago. Despite the fact that billions of dollars have been invested in catching up from the mistakes of the 1990s, we’re still struggling to keep up with the escalating demands of an aging population. Cutting services would only exacerbate those problems, and lead to higher costs in the future.

It’s interesting to note that in the B.C. briefing note, there does not appear to be any mention of salaries and wages paid to doctors and nurses. Since the incredibly dumb decision to cut back on medical school admissions and nursing programs, docs and nurses have been in the driver’s seat when it comes time to renegotiate contracts.

At some point, if a province is faced with a dire need to cut back on expenditures, you would have to think that remuneration paid to doctors and nurses would be among the first points of attack. Here is where politics enters the mix.

Doctors and nurses are potent political lobbies. In Manitoba, no party that wants to get and stay elected would do something to piss off the nurses. So, it seems unlikely the NDP government would, for example, ask for wage freezes or other concessions. Even if that might be a reasonable request at a time of economic crisis. That put the pressure back on to cut services.

The provinces will be hard pressed to find an easy way to lower expenditures, especially when a funding freeze to health care and education is the same as a funding cut, considering the inflation rate in both areas.

As if we needed more evidence that we’re living through dangerous times. Stay tuned.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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