FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick Medical Society is calling on the provincial government to invest more money in health care in order to improve accessibility to care for New Brunswickers.
The group, which represents more than 2,000 practising, future and retired doctors in the province, is making 57 recommendations to the provincial government on ways to improve the health system.
It released the list during a virtual news conference Wednesday in response to a discussion paper issued by the province in January that was an early step in the government's efforts to develop a new health-care plan for New Brunswick.
The recommendations in the doctors' report include reducing poverty, realigning resources and making greater use of technology in the province's strained health system.
However, the society says the changes will cost money, and it is calling for an increase of the health-care budget by six per cent per year over the next five years to fund new initiatives. It says the financial resources are needed to start recruiting doctors and shortening wait lists.
"If we were to put the priority in one word it would be accessibility," society president Dr. Jeff Steeves said. "We presently have 40,000 New Brunswickers on the patient connect list. Getting them access to health care has to be priority one."
The recommendations on accessibility include a call for improvements to after-hour clinics as a means of allowing more patients to move through the system.
The medical society says the problems have been accumulating for years: New Brunswickers have never been unhealthier, there is a shortage of health-care professionals and wait times for surgeries are among the highest in Canada.
"This province has one of the lowest per capita spending levels (on health) across the country," Steeves said. "When health expenditures in other provinces have gone up five to seven per cent over the last 10 years, New Brunswick has been closer to two per cent."
Steeves did not have a price tag for all the recommendations, but he said the money would be well spent given the public's growing concern over the health-care system's woes.
In Nova Scotia, the recently elected Progressive Conservative government has pledged $430 million in new spending in the first year of its mandate to address similar issues in its health system. The party repeatedly said during the campaign that only a major cash infusion could repair the province's system.
Steeves said that while accessibility is the top priority, all the recommendations are important.
"If we are going to move this system forward to continue what we've got, improve what we want, and expand in new areas, then each one of these is a pretty important suggestion to government," he said.
The group also says the shift to virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic has been effective and should be kept permanently.
Steeves said their recommendations were presented to the provincial government in April.
No one from the Health Department was immediately available for comment Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press