Montreal

Quebec health cuts are short-sighted, expert warns

A public health specialist says the nearly $24 million slashed from their budget is affecting preventive services in the province.

$24 million trimmed from the public health budget, forcing regional offices to slash a third of their budget

Provincial health specialists say the cuts are hurting preventive care programs in many regions. (Valentin Flauraud/Reuters)

A public health specialist says cuts to their budget are forcing regions to slash preventive care and they worry about the long-term consequences.

In April, as part of the health care reform measures, the public health budget faced $24 million in compressions.

As a result, regional offices were forced to reduce their budgets by a third.

David-Martin Milot, the co-president of Quebec's Young Physicians for Public Health, says despite assurances from the health minister that cuts would mostly affect administrative services, prevention programs in many regions are suffering for the costs.

We need to treat people who are sick, but what is even better is that people don't get sick.- David-Martin Milot, Young Physicians for Public Health

For example, Milot says programs that help prevent sexually transmitted diseases among high school students have been cut in some regions.

There have been job cuts too, he says.

In the Eastern Townships, a part-time nutritionist position was abolished, as was an expert in environmental health who was tasked to study the effects of the biggest environmental disaster in Quebec history, the Lac-Mégantic oil spill.

"We need to treat people who are sick, but what is even better is that people don't get sick," says Milot.

Impact unclear

Dr. David-Martin Milot warns we don't know what the long-term impact of cuts to Quebec's public health system. (Sara DuBreuil (CBC NEWS))
Milot accuses the government of trying to gain political points and being shortsighted with the cuts.

"We'll only see the the result after many years, after five to 20 years, and that is [longer than]  the four year mandate of the political parties," he says, adding that measuring the impact of public health can also sometimes be difficult.

"It's hard to say how many people will not be obese, for example, 20 years after we implement public health intervention."

Weakened security net

Milot says he feels the social security net has been weakened in Quebec because not only is public health facing cuts, but so are community groups that support the most vulnerable.

For example, public health can no longer provide groups that work with addicts clean syringes and injection material, Milot said.

That means addicts use soiled material and that's when they contract HIV and Hepatitis C, he said.

"It's a threat to the population's health that we were able to control in the last years very well," Milot says.

"But now it's back."

Regional response

Proportionally, Quebec invests less than other Canadian provinces in public health, according to Milot.

Before the cuts, Quebec invested about two per cent of its total healthcare budget in public health, that's compared, to 5.5 per cent in Ontario and 6.6 per cent in British Columbia, he said.

In the Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine region, roughly $664,000 was cut from the public health annual budget.

Connie Jacques, who works at the local CISSS, said experts in her region who support people who provide services on the ground were cut, but client services were not.

Jacques says she was more sceptical of the health care reform before the cuts, but now she believes in the changes and thinks things will be simpler for patients.

"We have changed the way we see public health in that first line services, and expert services are much more integrated," said Jacques.

Minister stands by cuts

A spokesperson for the Minister of Public Health, Lucie Charlebois, says the ministry has always been clear - the cuts were to be made in administration.

She says budgets for preventive care weren't affected.

The minister was not available for an interview.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marika Wheeler

CBC Quebec's travelling journalist

Based in Quebec City, Marika travels across the province telling the stories of people who live and work in la belle province for CBC Radio One and CBCnews.ca.

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