The private sector will step up to ensure Manitobans have access to physiotherapy and occupational therapy after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced it would be transferring those services out of hospitals and into private clinics, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Friday.
"I would say that there are other options and of course that means that the services that would be available from other sources would be available," Pallister said.
Other provinces have implemented similar changes and the previous NDP government was advised to do the same, but did not act, Pallister said.
"I know change is hard. I'm very, very sympathetic to the people who work in our system, but our goal is to get better health-care to people, and our goal is going to be achieved by facing that challenge, not running away from it as our previous administration did."
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The WRHA said Tuesday it's moving adult outpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics out of hospital to private-practice providers by mid-October.
Some exceptions will be made for specialty rehabilitation services, such as those provided by a spine clinic, specialized neuro-services and amputee services, which will continue out of the Health Sciences Centre, the health authority has said. Patients who would not be able to afford to attend private clinics will be accommodated, the WRHA said.
The announcement drew criticism from some physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
"Patients are going to be hurt because physiotherapy brings quality of life to patients," said Kate O'Connor, director of practice and policy for the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.
Occupational therapist Melissa Abrams told CBC News there is no equal service in the private sector for patients recovering in the month after surgery.
Pallister said he had one concern, which is the potential impact the changes might have on post-surgical physiotherapy, particularly in-hospital.
"We are going to make sure the WRHA, the health authority, monitors the situation because what I don't want to do is create a situation where it looks like we're saving money short-term and we're costing more money long-term."
The WRHA said it is making the changes in order to fulfil a mandate from the provincial government to find $83 million in savings this budget year.
Nurses can provide lactation consultations: Pallister
Pallister also said nurses will be trained to help new mothers with breastfeeding after the WRHA announced that lactation consultants at Health Sciences Centre will be discontinued.
"I think it's important to understand that there's enhanced training going to be happening," he said. "The WRHA, I believe, is adding staff and training the nurses, so that all nurses will be able to provide that service. They'll be equipped to do it."
Pallister said the skill set is important for new moms. "But I also understand from some of the literature and the research that's been done, that that type of service is best delivered in the community."
The WRHA said two lactation consultant positions at the Women's Hospital in HSC will be affected. It said women who choose to breastfeed will get support from nurses working on postpartum wards.