Liberal Leader Dwight Ball was sounding the alarm Monday afternoon about impending cuts coming to the province’s largest health authority.
Ball started off question period in the House by saying he’s heard Eastern Health will hold a news conference today to lay out the details of 552 layoffs and $43 million in budget savings.
“I ask the premier: Can you confirm these cuts and tell us what health-care services will be impacted?” Ball asked.
The question clearly came a day earlier than the government expected.
Eastern Health sent out a notice that it will, in fact, hold a news conference to announce “operational improvements.”
Neither the health authority nor Health Minister Susan Sullivan would confirm there would be cuts.
Speaking to reporters after question period, Sullivan didn’t say Ball was wrong.
“I think the best thing to do, as opposed to fear-mongering and telling the people of Newfoundland and Labrador based on speculation what might happen, I think the best thing for us to do is wait until tomorrow,” Sullivan said Monday.
Whatever it is, all signs point to something significant.
Sullivans said there would be briefings for the media and MHAs ahead of the news conference, and Eastern Health department heads and managers are already being brought into meetings to talk about the upcoming announcement.
In the lead-up to the provincial budget, rolled out by the government last month, Premier Kathy Dunderdale made it clear that the government was looking for budget cuts and cost savings.
However, at the time she made it clear that front-line services in a number of areas — including health care — were off-limits for budget cuts.
On Monday, Sullivan repeated that commitment.
“Our resolve has not changed,” Sullivan said. “There will not be any cuts in programs and services.
“The announcement that you will hear tomorrow will lay out some particular initiatives that Eastern Health wishes to embark upon, but we have made our commitment firm to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador; there will not be cuts in programs and services.”
Ball said he doesn’t believe it.
“It’s going to be very difficult to make cuts as significant as this without impacting front-line services or programs,” he said. “These are significant.”
It’s been clear for a while that the province wants to take on health-care spending, which has become the single largest share of government spending.
The $2.4-billion, health-care budget represents more than 37 cents of every dollar the government spends.
During pre-budget consultations this year, Finance Minister Tom Marshall fretted over growing health-care spending.
Earlier this year, speaking to The Telegram, Sullivan said she’s not looking to cut health-care spending, but she’s hoping to keep it from growing any further.
“It’s a huge challenge, but I’m happy to say all four of the CEOs understood the challenge, embraced it, they’ve gone back to their respective health authorities now with a view to seeing what they can do to find those efficiencies,” she said in January. “What I’m aiming for is to find efficiency and to find effective ways to deliver that health care within the province, without in any way compromising quality patient care.”
Thus far there has been no word on cuts or “efficiencies” within the province’s other three health authorities.