UCP Commits to Better Public Health Care for Albertans

Plan Includes Shorter Surgical Wait Times, Major Investments in Mental Health and Addictions, Palliative Care Support

CALGARY, AB: A United Conservative government would cut surgical wait times, make major investments to reverse Alberta’s opioid crisis, support mental health, and improve both primary and palliative care for Albertans.

Kenney made the announcement today in Calgary, building off his earlier Public Health Care Guarantee that a “United Conservative government will maintain or increase health care spending within a publicly insured, universally accessible system.”

“The NDP’s mismanagement of our health care system has left Albertans waiting in pain for surgery, while also carrying the bill for the most expensive system in Canada,” Kenney said. “The NDP are spending more while getting less.”

Since the NDP were elected;

  • Open-heart surgery wait-times have increased by nearly 50 percent, from 14.9 weeks to 22.2 weeks
  • Cataract surgery wait-times have increased by nearly 30 percent, from 29.9 weeks to 38.4 weeks,
  • Hip replacement wait-times have increased by nearly 30 percent, from 28.7 weeks to 36.7 weeks,
  • Knee replacement wait-times have increased by 23 percent, from 33 weeks to 40.7 weeks
  • The percentage of patients from the Emergency Department (ED) treated and admitted to hospital within eight hours, has declined from 46 percent to 43.9 percent

“Under the NDP, patients face longer emergency room wait times, worse emergency room outcomes, declining outcomes for youth mental health care, longer wait times for hospital beds, and longer wait times for surgical procedures.”

“This is what we’ve got from an NDP government that has added $3 billion to the health budget.”

“Under a United Conservative government, patients will be put at the centre of the health care system. It’s time to do things differently and put patients first.”

Todays’ announcement committed a UCP government to reducing surgical wait times to no more than four months in four years following the highly successful Saskatchewan model for health care reform, the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SSI).

“In just 4 years, our neighbours to the east were able to reduce the number of patients waiting more than three months for surgery, by 75%,” Kenney said. “They did it by setting bold targets and through strong leadership and that’s exactly what a United Conservative government will do.”

According to former Saskatchewan NDP Finance Minister, Dr. Janice Mackinnon, one of the key reasons for the success of the SSI was that it invited specialized private day surgical clinics to bid on providing government insured surgeries. The data demonstrates that these clinics completed surgeries for 26% less than government hospitals on average, meaning more patients got treated at lower cost, reducing the number of people waiting in pain for surgery.[1]

“One of the reasons we have a growing opioid addiction crisis in this province is because so many people waiting for surgery are being prescribed powerful pain killers which turn into a debilitating addiction in too many cases,” Kenney said. “Two people die in Alberta, every day, due to opioid addiction. It is a public health emergency.”

Kenney announced that a UCP government will launch an opioid response strategy including:

  • Appointing an Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions to make this a political priority of a future government.
  • Expand support for opioid treatment centres to deal with wait times and increase access, including: additional detox beds, mobile detox programs, and funding a new Virtual Opioid Dependency Program.
  • Establish a dedicated Opioid Enforcement Team within the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) to target aggressive investigation and disruption of opioid manufacturing and dealing.
  • Expand Drug Treatment Courts, including new ones outside of Calgary and Edmonton.
  • Call on federal government to increase resources for drug interdiction, and to restore mandatory minimum penal sentences for drug traffickers.
  • Ensure that provincial funding programs are determined based on evidence – including ensuring eligibility for successful faith-based models.
  • Work with physician groups to understand what more can be done to reduce the prescription of powerful opioid drugs that have a high incidence of addition, and ensure General Practitioners have training in opioid replacement therapy.

“The evidence is clear that the opioid and addiction crisis is highly correlated to issues of mental health,” Kenney said. “This is why I am announcing that a UCP government will invest an additional $100 million in funding to enact a new, multi-year, Mental Health and Addiction Strategy.”

This strategy will include:

  • Increasing earlier access to addiction and mental health services through primary care centers;
  • Expanding home care to support those who identify addiction and mental health as a primary concern;
  • Supporting Albertans in crisis by expanding programs to more communities including Police and Crisis Teams, Provincial Family Violence Treatment Programs, diversion programs and drug treatment courts, and by developing mental health court models;
  • Increasing access to mental health services, and reduce recidivism and use of emergency departments for those in contact with the criminal justice system; and
  • Supporting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people and communities by establishing a continuum of addiction and mental health services, ensuring service provision is not disrupted by jurisdictional disputes, and increasing access to services to manage the impact of Indian Residential Schools on mental health.

“Albertans want those living with addictions to be treated with compassion,” Kenney said. “It’s why I’ve committed to expanding support for opioid treatment centres and detox beds.”

“Albertans want to see those with addictions helped, but they also want their parks, neighbourhoods and communities to be safe. We will take a sensible, targeted, and compassionate approach to the issue of supervised consumption sites.”

A UCP government will:

  • Only endorse new supervised consumption sites if there have been extensive consultations with affected communities, including residents and business owners, and if there is a robust evidence-based analysis of the socio-economic impact of a potential drug consumption site.
  • Only endorse new Overdose Prevention Sites if they have clear plans to provide treatment services.
  • Conduct evidence-based socio-economic impact of analysis of existing drug consumptions sites.
  • Consult with local communities, police, municipalities and others on the location of existing sites to determine if they are optimal, or if better locations could be found that would reduce the impact of crime, discarded needles, and other negative social and economic impacts on local neighbourhoods.

Kenney also spoke to the need to increase availability of palliative care for Albertans and announced that if elected, United Conservatives would do so by:

  • Continuing to shift from hospital to community-based home and hospice care.
  • Establishing and implementing palliative care education, training and standards for health professionals.
  • Developing effective caregiver supports to support patients in their homes and community.
  • Raising public awareness of palliative care and how and when to access it.

In addition, a United Conservative government will pursue greater efficiency in achieving health care results for by patients by:

  • Increasing the budget of the Alberta Health Quality Council (HQCA) by $1 million annually to establish more measurements and increase health care quality outcomes for patients.
  • Providing Albertans with increased choice of medical practitioners. A United Conservative government would increase the number and scope of Nurse Practitioners practicing in Alberta and allow Nurse Practitioners the ability to bill directly to Alberta Health. We will also expand the scope of practice of other health professionals, such as opticians and paramedics.
  • Lifting the cap on midwifery services. Many expectant mothers would like to choose midwifery services for childbirth, but the NDP has capped access to the service. Increased midwifery services in Alberta would both reduce costs for the health care system, and increase the standard of care.
  • Reviewing the Connect Care contract and My Health Care Records to reduce potential duplication of services and ensure maximum effectiveness.
  • Modernizing paper health care cards to be combined with either driver’s licenses or provincial photo ID cards as a multi-use Personal Identification Card.

A comprehensive backgrounder with more information on today’s announcement is available here.