NDP rural health plan lacks substance
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Earlier this week, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew travelled to Virden to unveil his party’s five-point plan to “fix rural health care.”
The NDP plan includes a commitment to recruit and retain health-care staff by giving them higher pay, a more respectful relationship and a government that listens to them. “When it comes to putting a competitive offer in front of nurses working at the bedside, how about, instead of last place, we move Manitoba to first place,” Kinew said.
Also included are promises to spend up to $9 million per year on doctor recruitment in rural communities, build more personal care homes for seniors, ensure rural paramedics are paid the same as their counterparts in Winnipeg, and increase the mileage reimbursement rate for rural-based home-care workers.
Finally, the plan includes commitments to improve rural broadband access and a promise (via the NDP news release) to “equip rural health-care centres with technology to reduce patient transfers and connect rural families with the best specialists in the province.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if when you showed up at an ER in rural Manitoba, you could access the same quality of care as you’d get in a hospital in Winnipeg?” Kinew said. “We’ve got the technology, we’ve got the specialists, we just need the political will and investments to get it done.”
There are a lot of promises there but, as is often the case with election year politics, appearances can be deceiving. Indeed, if all the health-care problems rural Manitobans are experiencing could be solved by the five steps the NDP are proposing, they would have already been implemented by now.
In the case of the promise to restore the rural doctor recruitment program (it was created by the Selinger NDP government then abandoned by the Pallister government) and increase its annual funding to $9 million, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont characterized the NDP plan as an attempt to recycle a program that failed to achieve results the first time.
“We’re in a crisis when it comes to staffing shortages, and the NDP’s response is to bring back an old program that may not deliver doctors to rural areas for years, if at all,” he said in a news release.
If the program didn’t solve the rural doctor shortage a decade ago, how realistic to expect better results a decade later?
On Kinew’s commitment to make Manitoba’s health-care workers the highest paid in Canada, does he really believe that Manitoba has the financial ability to win a bidding war with Alberta, Ontario, B.C. and all the other provinces and territories for doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals?
Does he really think the biggest reason rural Manitoba is so short of health-care staff is because their salaries aren’t even higher?
The NDP leader is married to a doctor who practises in rural Manitoba. Is he not aware the single biggest reason doctors and nurses are leaving the health-care system is the crushing workload and stress they are forced to endure?
Tele-medicine and video conferencing can play a limited role in giving patients earlier access to the care they need, but wouldn’t it make more sense for people living in Westman to have better access to specialists in Brandon, as opposed to talking to one in Winnipeg via a computer screen?
Kinew referred to specialists in Winnipeg, but did he forget that Brandon has the largest hospital between Winnipeg and Regina, and that our city is just a 45-minute drive from Virden? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the NDP leader to promise to ensure that Brandon has the specialists, facilities and equipment it needs in order to serve the health-care needs of all Westman residents?
Wouldn’t that help solve the serious wait-time problems in Winnipeg? The NDP’s commitment to build more personal care homes is the same promise all parties make during every election campaign. And the promise to increase the pay for rural paramedics, and the mileage reimbursement for home-care workers, will also likely be repeated by the Tories and/or Liberals.
When considering the elements of the NDP’s plan, it’s just as important to consider what is missing. For example, where is the commitment to dramatically increase the number of qualified rural Manitobans who are admitted to the University of Manitoba’s medical school, and to the various nursing school programs throughout the province?
Instead of poaching doctors and nurses from other nations that need them to stay, why wouldn’t an NDP government-in-waiting commit to graduate higher numbers of home-grown doctors and nurses who want to stay here in Manitoba? Isn’t that the best, and most-obvious, way to solve our problem for the long term?
Kinew deserves credit for unveiling his plan in an area of the province where his party has little chance of winning seats in the upcoming election. That said, this isn’t a plan that could “fix rural health-care,” as he claimed.
To the contrary, it’s an incomplete set of simplistic ideas that cannot possibly solve the many layers of issues that plague our rural health-care system. Even worse, the plan appears to confirm the oft-repeated accusation that the NDP’s default response to any problem is to simply throw more money at it.
That approach didn’t work for NDP premiers Howard Pawley, Gary Doer and Greg Selinger. And, with this plan, the odds aren’t high for Kinew.
This week’s announcement was just a first step for Kinew, and the election is still months away. Let’s hope the rest of the NDP platform has more substance to it.
» Twitter: @deverynross