li-kennedy-jerome-scrum-1

Health Minister Jerome Kennedy speaking with reporters at a provincial budget announcement April 19. ((CBC))

Newfoundland and Labrador will increase spending on health care to $2.9 billion in 2011 – a 6.1 per cent increase over last year.

Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said his goal is to improve people’s daily lives by reducing wait times for health care treatment, improve access to treatment for mental health and addictions, improving access to physicians, cancer care and long-term care.

The budget tabled Tuesday includes $3.1 million to reduce wait times for services, and $3.2 to improve access to mental health and addiction services in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Kennedy also announced  $4.5 million will be spent to begin planning the replacement of the Waterford psychiatric hospital in St. John’s.

A new hospital is expected to cost more than $250 million.

"I would guess we are looking at four to five years," said Kennedy.

Budget documents said $2.7 million would be spent to expand services for people with autism.

The budget will also provide $3.1 million to improve dialysis services in Burin, St. John’s, Stephenville, St.Anthony and Labrador City as well as the establishment of satellite dialysis in Harbour Breton, which was announced April 13.

Kennedy also spoke about prior budget promises to built addiction treatment centres in Grand Falls-Windsor and St. John’s.

"It’s been two years. We’re hoping to start construction of the Grand Falls-Windsor site soon," said Kennedy, who added that the former site of Paradise Elementary is being considered for the St. John’s area facility.

Finance Minister Tom Marshall issued a word of caution on growing health care spending.

Although he agreed increased spending on health care is necessary, he suggested it could grow out of control.

"Our aging population is a tremendous threat. It’s obviously a concern," said Marshall.