Health estimates highlight trauma system, mental health, human resources (09/05/27)

NB 742

May 27, 2009

FREDERICTON (CNB) - Funding for hospital services, the provincial trauma system, mental health programs, pandemic resources, and staffing resources were some of the areas highlighted by Health Minister Michael Murphy as he presented budget estimates for the Department of Health in the legislature today. Murphy also announced strategic expense reductions to ensure the future stability of New Brunswick's health-care system.

"This year, ordinary account spending in the Department of Health will be more than $2.3 billion - a record-breaking figure," said Murphy. "These investments acknowledge the importance of putting patients first, even in the face of global economic uncertainty."

An additional $67 million is budgeted for capital construction projects and equipment, an increase of $9.6 million over 2008-09.

Murphy said that the investments reflect provincial health plan initiatives, as well as recommendations of the Creaghan Commission, aimed at helping all New Brunswickers be and stay healthy.

An increase of $100 million over 2008-09 is budgeted for the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs), an increase of almost eight per cent. The RHAs' 2008-09 deficits will be funded, and RHA funding will keep pace with inflation.

The Department of Health has earmarked $2.5 million for provincial trauma system development, and an increase of almost 14 per cent over last year for mental-health-program services.

While government has already stockpiled $8 million in pandemic supplies over the past few years, it will continue to invest $500,000 in 2009-10 to ensure that the province is prepared to face a pandemic.

This year's budget also includes funding for 25 new physician positions, dispensing-fee increases for community pharmacists, and funding to establish an anglophone medical school.

"In the health plan, the government committed to a minimum of 100 billing numbers for physicians over four years," said Murphy. " I am happy to say that we will be adding another 25 new physician positions this year."

Murphy also highlighted strategic expense reductions, one cost-recovery measure, and one fee increase that he said would ensure long-term access to public health care for all New Brunswickers.

"The alternative - unrestrained spending now, for short-term benefit and the future erosion of our health-care system - is unconscionable," said Murphy.

The Department of Health has generated efficiencies that have allowed the head office budget to be reduced by $4 million.

Monthly premiums for the Seniors' Prescription Drug Program are being raised to $105 from $89, effective Aug. 1. These premiums have not been raised since January 2002, while drug costs have continued to go up at an average of eight per cent per year over that period. Murphy said that the government is being forced to redress a lack of inflationary increases. This increase does not affect the over 50,000 seniors who are covered by the New Brunswick Prescription Drug Program.

Murphy clarified that the re-instated ambulance fee announced back in March will not apply to inter-facility transfers, clients of Social Development, those in foster care, or eligible clients of the extramural program. There will also be an appeals process available for those who can't afford the fee.

Other major initiatives in the department's capital budget include:


MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.