Maureen MacDonald may have gone into this election as the province’s finance minister, but her heart still lies with her previous portfolio as minister of health, and she says she and her NDP colleagues have grave concerns over plans by the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties, if elected, to reduce the number of district health authorities in the province.
“I have to say I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see that because I know what the implications of that are,” MacDonald said, responding to the Liberal and Tory election platforms, which were both released Wednesday, Sept. 11. “For health care, it throws the health-care system into yet another reorganization that focuses on the bureaucracy rather than front-line health care where we really need to stay focused.”
The Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives are both proposing a reduction in the current 10 district health authorities as a means of reducing spending in health-care administration.
The Progressive Conservative platform calls for just three district health authorities in the province – one for the Capital district (HRM), one for the rest of Nova Scotia and one for the IWK Health Centre.
The Liberals view even three district health authorities as too many. They propose two health authorities – one for the IWK and one for the rest of Nova Scotia. The Liberal platform maintains that going from 10 to two district health authorities would save $13 million annually.
MacDonald, however, feels the health-care system would pay the price through more restructuring upheaval. She says when the other two parties, while in power, changed the number of health districts, it created chaos in the system when instead the focus should be on front-line health care.
“It’s literally probably a two or a three-year project to reorganize. You first of all have to do bunches of studies. Where is the central body going to be located? Halifax? Are all of the decisions going to be made in Halifax? And what services are going to be centralized,” she said. “It really is a nightmare.”
MacDonald isn’t suggesting that the health-care bureaucracy hasn’t grown too large. She says that’s why the NDP reduced the number of vice-presidents and directors within the districts. She’s asked, then, is there something in between what the NDP government has done and what the other two parties are proposing?
“Our proposal is to continue to merge services that make sense to be merged,” MacDonald says. “We have a plan to continue to do this in a very gentle way, not to amalgamate all of the district health authorities. Our view is that local health-care decisions should be made locally and based on the needs of the population and the community. You really don’t want to get into a situation where the people who are making the decisions are so far away they don’t understand the implications.”
MacDonald also feels the other two parties have been too silent when it comes to addressing the issue of ER care.
Meanwhile, asked about the issue of family doctors and the fact that thousands of Nova Scotians, including many in southwestern Nova Scotia, do not have a family doctor, MacDonald believes a recently announced medical residency training site program for South West Health is going to have a positive impact on the doctor situation.
“What that does is it gives young medical students who have done the academic part of their work a real immersion in a rural practice and they get to see the benefits of living in a rural community and it entices them to stay when they understand that there are many opportunities for them,” she says.