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Two organizations representing Manitoba doctors are worried about plans to reorganize Winnipeg's hospital system.

Dr. Barbara Kelleher, president of Doctors Manitoba, said the proposed closure of emergency rooms and intensive care centres at three hospitals "could harm patient care."

In a letter to the Medical Post, she said she is concerned remaining ERs and urgent care centres "may not be provided with the necessary resources" to keep up with the greater demand for acute care services.

"Physicians are already being asked to do more with less and to assume a heavier administrative burden," said Kelleher. "Failing to properly resource emergency rooms and urgent care centres that remain open could have serious consequences for patients."

Doctors Manitoba is the bargaining agent for the province's physicians.

Kelleher said the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority will save almost $20 million a year from the changes because of layoffs of frontline ER, urgent care and intensive care unit physicians.

The WRHA said in a statement it did not anticipate any significant reductions in emergency or critical care physician positions.

Meanwhile, in a letter to members, the president of the 1,200-member Manitoba College of Family Physicians said she is worried the changes proposed by the Progressive Conservative government and the WRHA could negatively affect the hospital-based practices of many family doctors in the city.

Dr. Deirdre O'Flaherty said while the college is eager to help the health-care system become more efficient, she is concerned the role of family physicians in the proposed new system will be undermined.

She told members she is pressing for a meeting with the Health Department and the WRHA to discuss her organization's concerns.

Among the planned changes announced by the province and WRHA on April 7 were the closures of the Concordia, Seven Oaks and Victoria hospital ERs. Seven Oaks and Victoria will instead operate 24-7 urgent care centres, while Misericordia's urgent care centre will be closed and the space used for other purposes.

The hospital reorganization dominated question period at the legislature Tuesday and a subsequent meeting to discuss the Health Department's spending estimates.

Addressing the two doctors organizations' concerns, Premier Brian Pallister said while he has "tremendous respect for physicians generally" and their associations, the government must do what's best for patients.

He said Manitoba has long had some of the country's longest medical wait times, including for ER waits, so maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.

Pallister said the changes that will be implemented in the coming months and years are based on consultations with experts.

"I won’t deny that those changes may be seen as challenging," the premier said. "But not facing up to those challenges is not acceptable. So we will."

NDP health critic Matt Wiebe grilled Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen during health estimates about the report, by consultant David Peachey, on which much of the city hospital reorganization is based. The report had been commissioned by the former NDP government.

Goertzen flatly rejected suggestions he or his staff changed Peachey's mandate or had a hand in influencing or altering the final report.

"We accepted it as presented. I did not select Dr. Peachey to conduct the (study). I had never heard of Dr. Peachey prior to becoming minister of health. It would be fair to surmise that I was probably as hands-off on a report as a minister could be," Goertzen said.

The NDP is likely to keep the health minister on the hot seat for several more days.

The Health Department, with a budget of $6.1 billion, makes up nearly half of Manitoba's core government spending.

Supplementary health spending information released this week shows the Pallister government is cutting funding for programs that monitor and promote public health by more than 10 per cent this year.

Goertzen may find himself answering questions on why his department plans to spend $4.2 million less for physician recruitment and retention in Manitoba this year, or why the department's mental-health and addictions spending is forecast to be down $872,000. (The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, however, is slated to get a $705,000 increase on a budget that now exceeds $24 million.)

— with file from The Canadian Press

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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