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Canada: New Brunswick Liberals say health plan lack targets for recruitment and retention

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New Brunswick's official opposition took aim at the province's new health plan for the first time since it was unveiled last week.

Roger Melanson, interim Liberal Leader, says the health-care plan lacks a clear target or plan for recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses. © Callum Smith / Global News Roger Melanson, interim Liberal Leader, says the health-care plan lacks a clear target or plan for recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses.

Opposition leader Roger Melanson specifically targeted the lack of plan for recruitment and retention of health-care workers in New Brunswick.

"A document that talks about principles and guidelines — [it] doesn't give us a real concrete plan for recruitment and retention for our health-care professionals," Melanson said during question period on Tuesday.

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He said the plan focuses largely on technological improvements but not on the root of the problem in New Brunswick. Melanson argues New Brunswick is not competitive enough against other provinces that are attracting health-care workers, like doctors and nurses, to their region over New Brunswick.

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"That plan doesn't address that," he said speaking with reporters.

Premier Blaine Higgs, though, said the plan helps address the system as a whole. It wires in the improvements needed to ensure connectivity and access.

The plan was unveiled on Nov. 17 and included many sweeping changes including the New Brunswick Primary Care Network.

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Shephard says starting in early 2022, patients who are registered with Patient Connect NB will be able to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with a family doctor or nurse practitioner.


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The priorities include reducing surgical wait times by 50 per cent and wait times for adult high-priority addiction and mental health services by 40 per cent.

A chief focus is use of technology for such things as virtual appointments and self-scheduling for diagnostic tests like blood work and X-rays. Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said much of the current system is outdated, noting that laboratory technicians have to rely on fax machines to transfer information.

“We will explore many new ways to incorporate technology in our health system over the next two years,” Shephard told reporters during a virtual news conference on Nov. 17.

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But when Higgs was asked how a system is sustainable if there aren't enough human resources, Higgs said he understands that argument.

"What is the right level of human resources? I mean I don't have that number. I don't have any predisposed number, and there in lies in the challenge, right," he said.

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As for other provinces competing for resources, he says it's difficult. Richer provinces, he said, will have an advantage, something he said he has discussed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He added it's about ensuring the New Brunswick health-care system is viable for all areas under the Canada Health Act.

Melanson said the plan just lacked a clear definable goal or target.

When asked what his party's plan would look like, he said it would involved a human resources plan.

"I think I would have had a clear path of how many we want to recruit based on what we need, how many we need to recruit based on what's coming, and [an] HR plan and making sure we have the incentives to keep them in the system," he said.

The New Brunswick Nurses Association estimates about 41 per cent of registered nurses are expected to retire in the next few years. Similar numbers are estimated for doctors in the province.

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With inflation pressures rising, Liberals to give budget update on Dec. 14 .
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will deliver the update on Dec. 14, just three days before MPs are scheduled to leave Ottawa for a winter break. Federal finances have taken a beating during the pandemic as the treasury pumps out unprecedented aid. The government predicted the deficit for last fiscal year would be $354.2 billion, and nearly $155 billion this year.Higher oil prices among other economic factors are expected to pad the government's bottom line.

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