Pallister promises health announcement will cause 'a lot of debate,' but won't give details

Pallister promises health announcement will cause 'a lot of debate,' but won't give details

An announcement expected to cause great debate around Winnipeg's health care system is coming Friday from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Premier Brian Pallister has said — but he's not saying any more than that yet.

Pallister dropped the first bombshell on Monday when he told reporters a "reform package" would be coming from the WRHA this week, alongside the release of the results of the government's pre-budget consultation.

"It's going to be pretty meaty and it's going to be the subject of a lot of debate and we are excited about that. We are not going to run away from the challenges we face," Pallister said Monday.

On Tuesday, reporters were told the package is coming on Friday, but few other details were offered.

"I think it is pretty exciting to see what they are going to come up with," Pallister said, refusing to go into specific details.

"I am excited to see it made public."

No comment from WRHA on announcement

Speculation surrounding reforms to Manitoba's health-care system has been swirling for months, after it was revealed the regional health authorities have been given specific savings targets they must find for 2017-18.

The WRHA, Manitoba's largest health authority, has been told to find $83 million in savings in its $2.6 billion budget.

The health authority declined to comment Tuesday on what the announcement will entail.

A report released earlier this year, ordered by the former NDP government, recommended emergency departments in three of Winnipeg's community hospitals be closed and converted into urgent-care centres.

There are four community hospitals in Winnipeg: Concordia Hospital, Grace Hospital, Seven Oaks General Hospital and Victoria General Hospital.

When asked last month if closing emergency departments was on the table, Pallister wouldn't rule it out.

"What good is it to have a ton of ERs if you have to wait six hours when you get there?" he told reporters.

"What good is it to have an ER four minutes away if you have to wait four hours when you get there? I want people to get into an ER, I am not going to run away from that."

The report, authored by Dr. David Peachey, said providing acute care at every hospital in Winnipeg was more than the population needed, required extra infrastructure and staffing, and wasn't an efficient use of resources.

Health care accord talks resume

Meanwhile, talks have resumed between Ottawa and Manitoba on the signing of the federal health-care funding deal.

Manitoba remains the lone holdout in the country after Pallister complained about the three per cent increase in health transfers offered to the provinces. He has argued it is actually a cut compared to the six per cent increase the provinces enjoyed for over a decade.

Pallister removed a hurdle to negotiations on Monday after he told reporters he would take Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at his word that the Factory of the Future would be still be coming to Manitoba. 

Pallister previously said Ottawa had threatened to pull the $60-million high-tech centre promised for Manitoba unless the province signed on to the health accord. The premier repeatedly said he wouldn't respond to threats.

"Discussions continue and we will continue to discuss the best we can," he said Tuesday.

Pallister refused to say when he wants to see the deal signed, but confirmed negotiations had resumed.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters in Ottawa she remains hopeful a deal with be made.

"Of course we're hopeful," she said when asked to give an update on the discussions with Manitoba. 

"Of course we know that the people of Manitoba recognize, like Canadians across the country, that there are needs in the areas of home care and mental health, and they would, I'm sure, be pleased to be able to get those extra resources to support those areas."