Health-care promises short on details — like where staff will come from, says PC Opposition

At a news conference Thursday, Premier Andrew Furey, right, and Health Minister Tom Osborne announce plans for a new cardiovascular centre in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
At a news conference Thursday, Premier Andrew Furey, right, and Health Minister Tom Osborne announce plans for a new cardiovascular centre in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)

Some of Andrew Furey's political opponents are wondering how the government will keep some of its health-care promises while it's having trouble keeping hospitals and clinics staffed.

The first announcement came Wednesday afternoon, when Health Minister Tom Osborne said the government had decided to keep obstetrical units operating in both Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

The second came the next day at a news conference when Premier Andrew Furey, flanked by Osborne, announced plans to build a new cardiovascular centre at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.

Neither announcement included details about staffing — something interim PC Leader David Brazil said they've criticized Furey's government for in the past.

"They announce things without any plan," he said.

"If you're going to put it there, how are you going to staff it? He hasn't outlined the human resource project there. Where are the nurses coming from, where are the doctors coming from, where are the support staff as part of this process?" Brazil said.

Darryl Murphy/CBC
Darryl Murphy/CBC

Health-care crisis

The shortage of doctors and nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador is at a crisis level: the number of people without a family doctor is growing, the Registered Nurses' Union says the number of RN vacancies is growing, nurses are struggling with burnout, and emergency rooms are dealing with staff shortages and closures.

In Gander, the obstetrics unit doesn't have the staff to stay open, and Central Health has been diverting pregnant women to Grand Falls-Windsor, about 100 kilometres away.

Though Osborne has guaranteed the unit will stay open, he said the diversions won't end until the province recruits the health-care staff it needs to keep both units running.

"We have to focus on the recruitment and retention of individuals," said Osborne on Wednesday.

The second of the latest government health-care promises — the cardiovascular centre — will also need staff, though Furey said there will be a year or two of planning before it's built.

The goal of the new cardiovascular centre is to help manage and treat cardiovascular diseases and strokes, but also to step up prevention. The government says the centre will create more operating rooms, which will increase the number of treatments and surgeries they do, and create more bed space.

Furey's announcement didn't include any details on when the centre will be built, how much it will cost — or where or when the province will find staff.

"If it's being announced for political reasons because of the pressure that's put on him — that's part of the political game." said Brazil.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

2 things at once

Furey said health-care staffing is a challenge across the country but the province also needs to have places to put the staff it recruits.

"We need to be able to walk and chew gum, we need to be able to hold two thoughts in our head at once. These things have to occur in parallel."

But these aren't the only health-care related announcements that have been short on details.

At the end of October, as Furey was under scrutiny over a fishing trip to a luxury cabin owned by a billionaire friend who wants approval to build a wind energy project in western Newfoundland, the premier announced plans to build a new hospital in St. John's to replace the aging St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in the city's core.

That announcement also did not include details about where the new building will go, when it will be built, or how much the project will cost.

At the time, Furey said the new hospital will, among other things, help the province recruit and retain health-care staff.

The announcement led interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn to raise similar questions as Brazil about human resource issues.

"You still need people. Whenever we hear of bed closures, it's not to do with a lack of beds — it's the lack of staff to man them," he said at the time.

Recruiting internationally

The government has stepped up its efforts to recruit doctors and nurses from abroad — most recently setting up what it calls recruitment missions in Ireland and India.

On Monday, the government said in a press release it was adding the United Kingdom to that list because "training standards for physicians are similar to Newfoundland and Labrador."

"The team will visit several cities with a high concentration of high-quality medical schools to raise awareness of Newfoundland and Labrador as an ideal immigration destination," reads the release.

The Health Department says those cities include London, Leeds, Oxford and Manchester.

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