'Difficult day': 93 health care positions cut to streamline system, says John Haggie

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N.L. health authorities toe government's 'efficiency' line, brace for budget

Ninety three positions have been cut from Newfoundland and Labrador's regional health authorities and Centre for Health Information as part of the government's plan to reduce its management structure.

"This is a difficult day for those folk who are affected by these decisions," Health Minister John Haggie told reporters just after the government's announcement Wednesday in St. John's. 

Of the 93 positions, 37 were vacant. 

Haggie said the province cannot afford to continue spending what it does on health care without getting significant return. 

He said the cost of health care, per capita, is $7,130 in this province — much higher than in other parts of the country.

"The Canadian national average is $5,998. We do not see $1,130-odd worth of benefit."

Haggie said following the Way Forward plan, the four regional health authorities were asked to "implement a flatter, leaner approach" to streamline their management structures and this is the result. 

​The minister assured the public these cuts will not hurt services, but were requested to put fewer steps between a front line worker and the CEO, and ensure people are working to their skill set. 

"Too often you have registered nurses answering the phone, you have physicians doing clerical work. That is not how we're going to get the best money out of our healthcare system," said Haggie.

More health care cuts coming: opposition

"This seems like another reactionary, haphazard move out of desperation because of the budget situation that the Liberal government faces," PC critic and former health minister Steve Kent said Wednesday. 

"Pulling some managers out of the system without any kind of real plan is not the right approach," he said.

Kent warned that the announcement about health authority cuts is just the beginning.

He said he has "intel from sources within the health system and [Finance Minister] Cathy Bennett's office" that $150 million will be cut from health care in next week's budget, in addition to what was announced Wednesday. 

"My sources are good enough that it's more than just a rumour," Kent told reporters. 

$7.6 million in savings, $8 million price tag

The government said the job cuts will save approximately $7.6 million annually in salaries and benefits, and represent a 21 per cent reduction in the number of executive positions within the regional health authorities.

Those annual savings won't be seen until at least 2018, as Haggie told reporters on Wednesday that about $8 million will be paid out in severance and pay in lieu of notice to those who are being laid off. 

The cuts come one day after the throne speech, just a week before the Newfoundland and Labrador budget is set to be released on April 6, and one month after the government cut 300 management positions in the public service. 

Between the regional health authorities and the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI), eight executive, 72 management and 13 non-union/non-management positions have been eliminated. 

In Eastern Health, 46 positions are gone; Central Health will have 15 fewer positions, Western Health 19 and Labrador-Grenfell seven. Six positions at the NLCHI have been cut.

Minister Haggie told reporters Wednesday that an amalgamation of the province's health authorities is not on the table, as there is no evidence it would save money.