The New Brunswick government needs to boost its health-care spending as part of efforts to combat the shortage of staff working in hospitals and clinics, says the head of the province's medical society.
For the past 10 years, the province has been raising its spending on health care by two per cent annually — four per cent less than most other provinces have increased spending by in Canada, said Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.
"So there needs to be an infusion into our health-care system in New Brunswick so that we can catch up to other provinces," said Steeves, speaking on Information Morning Fredericton about the crisis in health care seen in recent weeks brought on by a shortage of nurses and doctors.
Also speaking on the show, Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said a new approach involving "multidisciplinary clinics" in communities should be created to focus on preventive care.
That way, patients could get quicker access to care for less urgent needs, taking pressure off hospital ERs.
"And a multitude of providers may be needed to provide that sense of health care, whether it be doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, licensed practical nurses, psychologists," said Doucet, speaking alongside Steeves about challenges facing the health-care sector.
"I mean, there's a whole number of professionals that I think can be taking care of our citizens, and we're not really looking at that model."
Steeves and Doucet offered their solutions in light of mounting health-care staff shortages across New Brunswick, which have led to several hospitals having to reduce the operating hours of their emergency rooms.
In an email statement, Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the Department of Health, did not say whether the province plans to up its health-care spending, but pointed to the province's desire to push the federal government to increase health transfer payments.
"Ensuring that the government of Canada reinvests in our national health-care system through substantive and long-term increases to the health transfers is a shared priority between government and its partners," Macfarlane said.
"Considering our financial challenges, we cannot do this alone."
Vacancies in health-care staff positions
Doucet said there are now 854 vacancies in nursing positions across the two regional health authorities and in the long-term care sector, adding the reductions in ER hours could be just "the tip of the iceberg of what's to come."
"We are faced with probably one of the worst crises in health care that we've seen in recent years, especially as speaking for registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the province," she said.
"Trying to deliver health-care services with that many vacant positions is not feasible, nor is it sustainable."
Steeves said that out of about 1,600 physician positions, 140 are vacant, with many more to go unfilled in the future with doctors set to retire.
"In the next five years, we expect about 35 per cent of those physicians to retire given their age demographic," Steeves said.
"It highlights that the system has been working at 100 per cent or more all along. The pandemic only highlighted that challenge and has moved us into a point where we are behind providing care and certainly stressed out providing care."
Steeves also said there needs to be more focus on preventive care, but some of that must also fall on patients themselves to make healthier life choices.
Of the top 10 causes of premature death, Steeves said, three relate to people being overweight, smoking, and inactivity.
"We need to try to work with New Brunswickers to be healthy, because this system is a partnership between what's provided and what is required," he said.