Manitoba

Nurse practitioners may replace rural ER doctors under new plan

Nurse practitioners could replace emergency room doctors in some rural Manitoba communities as part of the next phase of the province’s health-care overhaul. 

17 rural ERs are on long-term suspension due to staffing shortages

Manitoba has some of the worst health-care outcomes in the country, despite spending more per capita than other provinces.  (MAD.vertise/Shutterstock)

Nurse practitioners could replace emergency room doctors in some rural Manitoba communities as part of the next phase of the province's health-care overhaul. 

The province released its blueprint for the next five years, which is intended to improve the health-care system as a whole and reduce trips to ERs. 

The goal is to reduce the number of trips patients make to Winnipeg to get care by 2,500 over five years, in part by creating hubs in large communities like Brandon, Man., and in the north. 

There is no immediate plan to close rural emergency rooms, but reporters were told at a technical briefing Friday morning that direction on repurposing them will come next year.

"We need to be honest about the fact that right now in Manitoba, there are many communities who have a hospital where services are not predictable. Sometimes it's open and available, other times it's not. Doctor availability is a big question," said Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen talks to reporters about the new plan for rural Manitoba. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister has previously said some hospitals in rural Manitoba will be closed or converted into personal care homes as part of his government's plan to reform health care.

Many rural Manitoba communities have struggled to recruit and retain doctors for years, including when the former NDP government was in power. 

There are more than 70 hospitals outside Winnipeg, and 17 rural ERs are on long-term suspension due to staffing shortages.

Manitoba has some of the worst health-care outcomes in the country, despite spending more per capita than other provinces. 

Provincial officials said they'll work with communities to make changes based on what communities identify as needs. 

Manitoba’s Clinical & Preventive Services Plan report was released Friday and outlines plans to replace doctors with nurse practitioners in some rural Manitoba emergency rooms. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

As part of the plan, some services will be made available in rural communities. 

Test results will be made available to patients online in a secure portal to help cut down the number of trips to a doctor's office they have to make.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government needs to come clean and say what rural ERs it plans to close. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"We ought to be open to modernizing the delivery of health care but I am also fully cognizant of the fact that nobody wants grandma to be looked at by a robot," said Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

Kinew accused the government of trying to bury reporters with charts and graphs instead of saying what rural ERs will close. 

Chaos to come to rural areas: NDP

"Before stopping to learn any lessons or to think about how to do things better this government is rushing into closing emergency rooms in the rest of the province. The chaos that you've seen in Winnipeg emergency rooms you are now going to see them export this function like that to the rest of the province."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province doesn't have a health care problem but instead a money problem — it's not investing enough in prevention causing health care costs to skyrocket.

"We have in Manitoba one of the poorest and sickest populations. There's a reason why we spend so much money on health care. It's because people are sicker because they're poorer and because they can't get access to food and they can't get access to the health care they need."

Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals' president Bob Moroz said the government needs to be more clear on its plan for rural Manitoba.

"This plan as far as I can see so far, in the two hours that I've had the plan in my hand, has no details. It doesn't talk about which communities will be affected, which professions and all those things."

Nurses not consulted: Union

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said in a statement the plan was developed without consulting nurses.

"Once again, nurses are left with more questions than answers following the release of a health care plan that will have significant impacts on staff and patients across the province.

Friesen said the government will make $250 million in investments to implement the plan, which he called historic. 

"This is a historic moment. We've never been here as a province. We've never had a plan for a province of 1.35 million people."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government needs to start investing in people. He says people are sicker in Manitoba because they are poorer. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The team behind the plan looked at the example of Nova Scotia, which has undergone significant health-care changes. 

The team also looked at Australia, which has a high Indigenous population. Manitoba has the highest per capita Indigenous population in the country.  

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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