Health Minister Ted Flemming announced a five-year plan that intends to equitably distribute health services across the province in the legislature on Friday.

The health minister’s plan includes a long list of new or expanded services in all regions of the province that are designed "to address genuine gaps in our system."

"In the future, new services will only be added to New Brunswick’s health-care system if they are in keeping with the principles of financial and clinical sustainability, safety, quality, and adequate patient volumes," Flemming said.

"If a new service is added or a service is extended, it will be provided, where possible in the health authority not currently offering it."

This catch-up plan was promised earlier in the fall by the Alward government.

It was being pushed by Dr. Hubert Dupuis, the president of Égalité santé en français, an organization that is seeking the equality in health services in French.

He met with several cabinet ministers in October to outline his concern that the provincial government was failing to live up to a promise to offer more services in francophone institutions.

He said the provincial government's plan will improve distribution of services, specifically in the francophone areas of the province.

 "All New Brunswickers have a right to health-care services in their language of choice. These services must be sustainable, safe, of quality, and with enough patient volume to make it financially viable and maintain clinical expertise," Flemming said.

Flemming said these services are expensive but he said the provincial government feels it is necessary to make specific investments in the system.

"We must first face the myth that health care is free. It’s not free. It’s universal," he said.

"Our medicare card is a credit card for which the cardholder never gets a bill. The government gets it and we all pay for it. We have choices we need to make if we are to protect this system that we believe in."

Dupuis told reporters on Friday that Flemming's plan is a "giant step" to equal and comparable access to services in both official languages.

The health plan will expand or create services in regions across the province. Flemming estimates the plan will cost $9 million over five years.

There will be several enhancements at the Dr. Georges-L. Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton:

  • obstetrical/gynecological oncology as a provincial program
  • a sleep lab
  • expanded neurology services
  • bariatric surgery
  • a provincial cornea transplant program
  • a provincial response team for pathogen level 4 and a virology lab
  • improvements to oncology resources.

The health minister is also expanding health services in rural and northern areas of the province in his plan.

In the Chaleur region:

  • a new provincial cochlear implant surgery program
  • bariatric, weight-loss surgery
  • expanded neurology services
  • improved plastic surgery services
  • a rheumatology service to be shared with the Restigouche region
  • the designation of the Chaleur Regional Hospital as a university-affiliated hospital centre.

In the Restigouche region:

  • a new rheumatology clinic to be shared with the Chaleur region
  • the designation of the Restigouche Regional Hospital as a university-affiliated hospital centre

In the Edmundston region:

  • a new heart failure management program
  • a new rheumatology clinic
  • the designation of the Edmundston Regional Hospital as a university-affiliated hospital centre

The Vitalité Health Network will also roll out plans for a new sexual assault nurse examiner program, a regional spiritual/pastoral care co-ordinator and enhancements to child psychiatry services.

Flemming's plan also says the health network will study the need for a cardiac catheterization laboratory, opiate addiction treatment centre intermediate rehabilitation services for the north and a geriatrics program.

Dupuis told reporters he had hoped Flemming would announce a cardiac cath lab in his new plan, not just feasibility study into the proposal. But the Moncton doctor said it is still a big step forward.

As well, the health minister said health services for francophones using the Horizon Health Network in Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi will be improved.