Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister says a hiring freeze that was unveiled on Monday will last for months, not years.

But Jerome Kennedy says the freeze, which was disclosed in an all-staff memo to the civil service, is necessary to help the provincial government avoid a crippling deficit.

Kennedy, who is chairing pre-budget consultations around the province, said the freeze may be lifted before 2014.

"At this point, [it will be] months as opposed to years because you can still hire, but there has to be ... a process put in place where you have to go through the proper channels," said Kennedy.

Kennedy says any new hires will have to be exceptional, and that he will personally sign off on each one.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was pressed for answers Monday on the status of a long-promised new hospital for western Newfoundland during a consultation in Corner Brook.

Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce, who represents the Bay of Islands district, said people need a timeline on the hospital's construction.

"We heard the commitment from government in 2011 that construction will begin in late 2011/2012. They find out now that they are not even in the design stage, so it’s delayed three or four years," Joyce said.

The government has hired the design consulting firm Stantec to review and refine a master plan for the hospital. As well, the province says it has already spent $20 million on planning, engineering and other costs for the new complex, which will replace Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

"What I heard here today was that people want a plan, they want to know timelines," Kennedy told CBC News, adding that cabinet meetings later this week in Corner Brook may provide an opportunity for more detail.

"Both the premier and the minister of health will be here in Corner Brook over the next few days so any specific questions can certainly be put to the minister at that time."