Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party is making health care the No. 1 issue in the final days of the election campaign, stepping up its attempts to tie Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil to the health cuts made by the last Liberal government in the 1990s.
At a campaign stop on Wednesday, New Democrat Leader Darrell Dexter's backdrop was a couple of large posters reminding voters that the Liberal government, led by John Savage, closed hundreds of hospital beds when it restructured health care two decades ago.
The NDP also released a new attack ad with this claim:
"1999: When Liberal cuts and closures caused chaos in health care, with 1,600 hospital beds closed, long-term care beds frozen and 1,000 nurses driven out of nursing."
Most of the numbers in this advertisement are accurate. Hundreds of nursing jobs were cut and hospital beds closed — but when we looked more closely at the hospital bed closures, we came up with an interesting fact. There are fewer hospital beds now than there were when the Liberals were voted out in 1999.
When the Liberals took power in 1993, there were about 4,800 hospital beds in Nova Scotia. More than 1,200 beds were closed in the first two years of Savage's mandate and by the time Russell MacLellan was defeated, it was down to just over 3,100 beds.
Since then we've seen little change.
When the Progressive Conservatives were in power, the numbers dropped again. It went as low as 2,820 beds before stabilizing around the 3,000 bed mark.
Since the New Democrats were elected, we've seen another small drop. Now, there are just under 3,000 beds in Nova Scotia.
That means today, there are 114 fewer hospital beds open than there were when the last Liberal government was defeated in 1999.
Hospital bed promises
The New Democratic Party says fewer beds are needed today due to a greater emphasis on home care and new medical procedures that see more day surgeries and fewer overnight stays in hospital.
The party is promising a small increase in the number of beds — 25 new beds for the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville.
The Progressive Conservatives aren't promising any new beds. They say efficiencies and more support for seniors will free up beds now used by patients waiting for long-term care.
The Liberals say they have no plans to add hospital beds either. Their health-care priority will be to enhance preventive medicine and improve access to primary care.