Opinion: Stephen McNeil fails health care checkup

The following commentary by CUPE NS President Nan McFadgen was published in the Chronicle Herald online today.

Stephen McNeil vowed to improve health care in Nova Scotia in his 2011 election platform by creating one health authority for the entire province (and one for the IWK). Almost eight years later, promises he made have not been realized.

He pledged that the province would provide a family doctor for every Nova Scotian, save on health administration costs, improve equal access to programs and services (regardless of where we live), reduce wait times, and ensure we citizens play an active role in the delivery of health-care in our home communities.

Centralization of our health-care system has led to chaos –– for workers and for patients. McNeil must make better choices.

Let’s review his record in a bit more detail.

McNeil promised a doctor for every Nova Scotian.

According to the NSHA, there are more than 51,000 Nova Scotians on the wait list for a family doctor. What is not measured is the number of people who’ve lost their family doctor and the number of people who’ve simply given up.

Nova Scotia’s NDP recently revealed the number of doctorless patients who went to an emergency room in 2018 – information that was only discovered through a freedom of information request. The numbers are alarming.

  • 138 per cent increase since 2013 at Aberdeen Hospital
  • 125 per cent increase since 2013 at Cape Breton Regional Hospital
  • 258 per cent increase since 2013 at Colchester East Hants Hospital
  • 81 per cent increase since 2013 at Cumberland Regional Hospital
  • 217 per cent increase since 2013 at Dartmouth General Hospital
  • 140 per cent increase since 2013 at QEII Hospital
  • 28 per cent increase since 2013 at South Shore Regional Hospital
  • 51 per cent increase since 2013 at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital
  • 265 per cent increase since 2013 at Valley Regional Hospital
  • Two per cent decrease since 2013 at Yarmouth Regional Hospital

Also, we need 50 new specialists per year until 2025 to meet the target set in the province’s physician recruitment plan. In 2018, we gained six new specialists.

We call that failing his health-care checkup.

McNeil promised to reduce wait times

McNeil said he’d meet the national wait-time standard for hip and knee replacements. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the benchmark for treatment and wait times for hip and knee replacements is 182 days.

Currently, the NSHA lists an average wait time of 481 days for hip replacement surgery and 592 days for knee replacement surgery –– far from what McNeil promised.

McNeil promised to reduce administration costs, while increasing accessibility to frontline services

According to the CIHI report, in 2012-13, Nova Scotia’s health administration expenditures were $56.2 million. In 2018-19, they were $56.9 million.

The NSHA continues to centralize services and close hospitals – most notably in North Sydney and New Waterford. How will those closures affect wait times and delivery of frontline services?

Frontline services are worse than ever, and it appears that McNeil is building walls in our health system, not tearing them down.

We call that failing his health-care checkup.

McNeil promised that health-care decisions would be transparent, accountable and made with public input

Since McNeil came to power, Nova Scotia has increasingly become a province where the only way to get any information is to file a freedom-of-information request.

Across the province, individuals and entire communities have been raising their voices, trying to prevent the loss of health services in their communities. They’re trying to reverse decisions to close emergency rooms and hospitals, while supporting doctors, paramedics and other health-care workers, who are frustrated and overworked.

Almost every day, letters to the editor published in newspapers describe the hardships faced by people and their families, as they try to navigate the failing health-care system. They are frustrated and frightened.

We call that failing his health-care checkup.

As we stated in 2014, why would we want to create this kind of mass upheaval in our health-care system when the experience from other provinces shows us clearly that the ‘cost-savings’ are completely fictional? On top of that, rural Nova Scotia does not want to see its health-care decision-making centralized in some new, mega-bureaucracy in Halifax.

It’s time to re-evaluate the Nova Scotia Health Authority and find solutions that work for everyone.

Premier McNeil, you have failed your health-care checkup.

Nan McFadgen is president of CUPE NS, which represents more than 18,000 public sector workers, 4,700 of whom are acute-care workers in hospitals.