Measures introduced to enhance key health services and ensure sustainability (09/06/02)

NB 774

June 2, 2009

FREDERICTON (CNB) - The provincial government has introduced measures designed to enhance key health services and ensure the overall sustainability of the province's health system.

Tabled today in the legislative assembly by Health Minister Michael Murply, the Act to Amend the Medical Services Payment Act extends a government-wide, two-year wage freeze to include both fee-for-service and salaried physicians. Additionally, in its recent 2009-10 budgetary estimates, the Department of Health adjusted rates of pay for pathologists and physicians working in the province's emergency departments.

"Today we are taking steps to manage and restrain health-care costs in very challenging economic times, while at the same time undertaking measures designed to enhance the province's emergency and pathology services," Murphy said.

The Government of New Brunswick will increase to $190 per hour current sessional rates for clinical services in all emergency rooms, increasing health authorities' ability to assure continued, stable coverage in emergency departments across the province. This increase represents an additional expenditure of $7.2 million annually.

Government will also increase pathologists' salaries by 15 per cent, effective April 1, 2009, and by 10 per cent, effective April 1, 2010. This measure is in direct response to recommendations made by Justice Paul Creaghan through the Commission of Inquiry into Pathology Services at the Miramichi Regional Hospital, and represents an additional annual expenditure of $1.5 million in 2009-10, and a further $1.1 million in 2010-11.

In recognition of current fiscal realities, the 2009-10 provincial budget introduced a significant program of spending restraint, including a mandatory two-year wage freeze for all government employees. The majority of public sector unions, including the New Brunswick Nurses Union, are working with government, and have accepted a two-year wage freeze to take effect at the end of their existing agreements.

The Act to Amend the Medical Services Payment Act extends the wage freeze to physicians. Because both fee-for-service and salaried physicians have been without an agreement since April 1, 2008, only 10 months remain until their wage freeze expires.

A tentative agreement with fee-for-service physicians reached in late 2008 proposed general economic increases that, once extended to the province's salaried physicians, would have represented additional costs of $35.6 million in fiscal 2009-10. From the government's point of view, the increasing severity of the global recession in early 2009 has since made spending on that scale a virtual impossibility

"Tough times call for tough decisions," said Murphy. "Even with a record-high health budget of $2.3 billion, competing priorities mean that savings must be found in order to ensure the continued, long-term accessibility and sustainability of the public system."

The government continues to implement new ways of improving access to the public health-care system, while at the same time increasing spending efficiencies. Since 2006, 114 net new physicians and 143 net new nurses have been recruited to the province. There are 51 nurse practitioners working in the province, and plans to introduce midwives into the system will further contribute to government's goal of improving access and increasing efficiencies.

"Quality health care must be available to all New Brunswickers whenever they need it, wherever they live in our province," said Murphy. "This legislation exemplifies our government's commitment to protecting and enhancing access to health services for all New Brunswickers."


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