Hours after Manitoba's Liberals pledged to establish a dedicated stroke unit if elected next year, the province's NDP government says plans are already in the works for a unit to treat and support stroke patients.
"It's one of the first things that we've talked about. I have been working with the [Winnipeg Regional Health Authority] and the department to see how we could roll something like this out," Health Minister Sharon Blady told CBC News on Monday afternoon.
"It's something that's really important to do prudently."
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Her remarks came after the Liberals announced on Monday morning that if elected next spring, they would work with the WRHA to establish the province's first dedicated unit for stroke patients.
The Liberal plan would see the unit based in Winnipeg and would cost an estimated $7.5 million per year. It would save about $70 million in health-care costs down the road, the party said.
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari said stroke units decrease the likelihood of patients dying following a stroke and increase the likelihood of full recovery.
'Nuts and bolts matter,' says minister
However, Blady said the Liberal plan does not contain enough details.
"I just have concerns because in previous health suggestions and platforms that she's had, there really hasn't been an attention to detail," Blady said.
For example, Bokhari had pledged fertility treatments to Manitobans if elected — a promise that would "only apply to 38 per cent of Manitobans seeking treatment," according to Blady.
The minister said details, such as ensuring Manitobans have access to a rehabilitative stroke unit, do matter.
"Do we have the right facilities? Do we have the right interconnection and supports of resources? And do we need to or do we already have the right people?" she said.
Blady added that her department will continue to work with the Heart and Stroke Foundation as well as regional health authorities and health-care professionals to move plans forward.
"The nuts and bolts matter; it is about the detail, and doing it the right way."
Manitoba only province without unit
The Heart and Stroke Foundation says Manitoba is the only province that does not have a dedicated stroke unit.
The quality of a patient's recovery from a stroke relies a lot on the speed of the initial treatment as well as follow-up rehabilitation, said Christine Houde, director of health promotion and government relations with the foundation.
A dedicated stroke unit is generally staffed by a team of nurses, neurologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists and other professionals, all under one roof, Houde said.
"It can help stroke complications, it can prevent stroke occurrence, accelerate regained mobility in survivors and provide early rehab therapy, so essentially, it's going to lead to significantly improved health outcomes for the patients," she told CBC's Radio Noon program.
"Having all of this care in one specific area is just going to provide better outcomes for the patient because all of that care piece is happening in a very co-ordinated, clustered way."
Stroke patients who are treated in a specialized unit have their chances of disability and death reduced by as much as 30 per cent, according to the foundation.
'Not an optimal sort of setup'
Houde said Manitoba is the only province in Canada without a stroke unit, while strokes kill hundreds of Manitobans each year, making them the third-leading cause of death in the province.
"Manitoba has very dedicated health professionals that are providing very good stroke care, but with this care happening in different units of the hospital and different regions, you know, it's just not an optimal sort of setup for having this ... take place," Houde said.
Houde added that the foundation has had positive discussions with the province's three major political parties, including the governing NDP, which has established telehealth services for stroke patients and made improvements to rehabilitation services.
"So there has been some positive movement going on there, but this one missing piece continues to be an issue," she said.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has launched an online campaign urging Manitobans to lobby their MLAs to fund a dedicated stroke unit. Houde said more than 250 letters have been sent to MLAs to date.
Blady said her department will release more information in the coming months about their plans for the stroke unit, including costs and a proposed location.