By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
In Manitoba, health care never seems to be far from our minds. We worry about care, we worry about timely access, we worry about costs. Health also figures prominently in the provincial government’s priorities.
Health spending accounts for the largest share of the provincial budget. For the 2014/2015 year, the provincial government planned to spent $15.1 billion and health spending accounted for $5.8 billion of that total. Not only are we spending a lot to provide Manitobans with health care, but each year, the cost climbs. In 2011/2012, health accounted for $5.2 billion in provincial spending.
So what are we getting for 38 per cent of our province’s expenditures? By the looks of things, we could be getting more. Despite the many ways in which the province’s health care program serves us well, there is still much cause for concern.
On June 30, 2011, the Manitoba government said that it was working to make sure that every Manitoban could have a family doctor by 2015. This hasn’t come to be and in many areas, residents have less access to family physicians today than they did four years ago.
As the election campaign season kicks off, prospective politicians across the region are hearing about the challenges many Manitobans face in accessing basic health care. Many people no longer have a family doctor and must either go to emergency rooms or to walk-in clinics in large urban centres outside their home communities in order to access care.
Part of the problem is a shortage of staff. Across the Prairie Mountain Health region, they are looking for 56 licensed practical nurses, six mental health nurses, close to 80 RNs, six nurse practitioners. While the number of doctors registered with the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons, rises each year, they still can’t keep pace with the vacancies. PMH is looking for 18 physicians to fill priority vacancies.
Health care in Manitoba seems to be quite good in emergency situations. A Manitoban seeking radiation treatments won’t have to wait long, just a median wait time of one week. It’s also good news for those with heart problems; all cardiac surgery has a median wait time of 10 days while those needing an urgent cardiac bypass procedure have a median wait time of just seven days. However, for the non-life-threatening ailment, Manitobans have a bit longer to wait. For a total hip replacement, the medial wait time is 10 weeks in Brandon, 26 weeks at Boundary Trails and 17 weeks in Winnipeg. The wait times for knee replacements are similar.
But Manitobans aren’t just waiting for new joints. Last week, the PC Party of Manitoba released information about ambulance off-load times at Winnipeg emergency rooms. Some patients are waiting as long as 78 minutes to be transferred from an ambulance to the emergency room. Spending over an hour waiting in front of a hospital can’t be an efficient use of medical resources.
A high level of health spending hasn’t brought down fees for Manitobans either, Manitobans also pay the highest ambulance fees in Canada. According to the CBC, most Canadians pay about $200 per ambulance trip. In Ontario, trips that are considered medically necessary cost $45 while in New Brunswick, these trips cost nothing. Manitobans pay much more than that for all trips. In the Prairie Mountain Health authority, a one-way ambulance trip can cost as much as $530. At this rate, an ambulance ride would be disastrous for a low income Manitoban.
We know that providing health care will continue to be a major challenge and a costly endeavour for our governments moving into the future. As the campaign season gets underway, it’s time for the candidates to present some viable solutions, the ones we have aren’t working.