St├ęphane Robichaud, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council, says many patients currently use ERs as a first point of service in some communities. (CBC)

The CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council says the province could get by with fewer emergency rooms, but health care resources would need to be reorganized first.

St├ęphane Robichaud was responding to Health Minister Ted Flemming's recent comments that seven out of 22 ERs could be closed with no effect on access to emergency care.

"We have a lot of people showing up at our ER for reasons that, if we did a better job at helping them manage those conditions, we could have prevented a lot of those visits," said Robichaud.

The health minister's comments about reducing the number of ERs outraged the province's doctors, who accused Flemming of damaging patient care.

But people across the province use ERs for different reasons, said Robichaud.

In some communities, such as Kegwick and St-Quentin, as much as 60 per cent of the population uses the ER as a first point of health services, he said. Meanwhile, only four per cent of people in Stanley go to the ER as an entry point, according to a 2011 survey.

"So at the end of the day, if we better organize this care, two, three, four, five years down the road, one of the results will likely be there are fewer ERs," said Robichaud.

"But it's not starting from the element that it's just cutting ERs. It's because we're serving these people better."