Nova Scotia government releases blueprint for addressing health-care system woes

·3 min read
N.S. Premier Tim Houston at Province House on April 22, 2022. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
N.S. Premier Tim Houston at Province House on April 22, 2022. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government's plan for improving the health-care system includes few new details from the Progressive Conservatives' campaign platform and mandate letters for ministers focused on the sector, something Premier Tim Houston says is fine with him.

"[Our message] has been consistent and it should be consistent," Houston told reporters at Province House on Friday.

The 31-page document arrives three weeks late and near the end of the spring sitting of the legislature. It includes six solutions the government has identified to work on as part of a four-year effort:

  • Becoming a magnet for health providers.

  • Providing the care people need and deserve.

  • Cultivating excellence on the front lines.

  • Building accountability at every level.

  • Being responsive and resilient.

  • Addressing factors that affect health and well-being.

Houston said health-care workers will see their voices represented in the plan, which comes following the premier's tour last fall with Health Minister Michelle Thompson and other officials.

"They now see some organization and some direction," said Houston.

What they and others won't see in the plan are any timelines or targets. Government officials said during a technical briefing that benchmarks and goals are still being established and should be released by early summer, at which point they'll be tracked on a website.

Liberal leader 'very underwhelmed'

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said he would not call the document released Friday a plan.

"It looks like another marketing document full of jot notes," he told reporters.

"There's no timelines, no benchmarks, and a plan would have specific timelines on how they're going to action new items. So I'm very underwhelmed."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

NDP health critic Susan Leblanc said the document doesn't come close to addressing outstanding questions about the health-care system, such as how to reverse ongoing emergency department closures and a backlog in surgical procedures that stands at more than 27,000.

"It's a deep disappointment," she told reporters. "It's very vague. It's sparse."

The document highlights a variety of steps the government has already taken, such as offering jobs to all nursing graduates in the province, increasing wages for continuing care assistants, creating patient transfer services to free up paramedics, and new urgent treatment centres in Parrsboro and North Sydney.

There are promises to implement the one-patient, one-record system, improve diversity within the system, increase culturally appropriate care and a variety of other steps, but no timelines or costs are attached to any of it.

Plan will evolve, says premier

Houston and his party won a majority government last summer largely on a promise to fix health care. The front page of the party's election platform document included the line, "Why Houston's 'solutions' will jump-start our economy and fix a health-care system in crisis."

When asked Friday whether this plan would achieve that goal, the premier replied, 'Yeah,' before amending his stance.

"Fix is a very subjective word," said Houston. "It's in the eye of the beholder. I've used it before. We're going to make significant improvements to health care. And to many people, in their specific situations, it will be a fix.

"But to others, there's always going to be, you know, things that creep up."

The premier and government officials stressed that the document doesn't include all measures being explored to help the system and said it would evolve over time.

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