Dwight Ball pledges 24-hour Botwood ER service that analysis found 'is not required'
Health department data shows there would have been only 2 visits there per evening in 2018
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball's impromptu campaign pledge to reinstate 24-hour emergency room service at a health-care facility in Botwood comes less than three months after a Department of Health analysis concluded it wasn't necessary to do so.
The analysis found that, in 2018, there would have been an average of only two visits per evening to the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Centre in Botwood, if emergency services had been offered there during the 12-hour period between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
"The data from 2018 supports the 2016 [Central Health] recommendation that ER service from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. is not required at the [Twomey centre] as residents of the Botwood catchment area are accessing ER services from [the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor] as needed," a departmental briefing note advised.
The briefing note is dated Feb. 21, 2019. CBC News obtained it through access to information.
'Something that people [have] been looking for'
Ball made the promise to again provide 24-hour emergency room access in Botwood during a campaign stop Thursday, linking it to work announced last year for a protective care unit at the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Centre.
"Once that is finished in September 2020, that will put us in a position now to reinstate the 24/7 emergency room services right in Botwood," Ball said Thursday.
"This is something that people [have] been looking for."
He said there will be no cost associated with the decision, because of extra staff associated with the pending addition.
On Friday, when asked about the health department analysis, Ball defended his announcement, again stressing there is "no extra cost" associated with it.
"I will make public policy, when we're in a position to do it, to affect one person," Ball said during a campaign stop in Lewisporte.
"Good public policy is identifying the needs of people, no matter where they are. These are no extra costs to taxpayers in our province, and this is one person or two people, as I said, that would not have to go to Grand Falls-Windsor."
In St. John's on Friday morning, Liberal candidate John Haggie — who approved the briefing note in February, in his role as health minister — was less categorical.
"We're trying to walk that fine line between over-servicing and under-servicing. But if we have staff and there is an opportunity, what we've said is we're going to look at that in 2021 when the unit opens," Haggie said.
So is this definitely going to extend the hours?
"I think it's definitely going to be examined," he said.
So it's not a guarantee?
"There is no guarantee in life about any of this. The facts of the case are that if in 2021 there is a need for ER to be provided 24/7, and there is an opportunity to do it, why would you not offer that service?"
Botwood ER hours reduced in 2016
Central Health reduced the ER hours in Botwood in 2016, to increase efficiency and cut costs.
Patients were instead diverted to Grand Falls-Windsor, a 30-minute drive away.
The decision sparked controversy at the time.
But the recent Department of Health analysis says last year's data "continues to support the 2016 decision to reduce the service hours" in Botwood.
"The number of after hour (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) visits to [the Grand Falls-Windsor hospital] by residents of the Botwood catchment area during 2018 is 1,497, an average of four visits per evening," the briefing note advises.
"If the evening visits for residents of Bishop's Falls (786) is removed from the total annual visits (1,497), this reduces to 711 annual visits, or approximately two per evening."
Because people in Bishop's Falls are closer to Grand Falls-Windsor, they are more likely to go there than Botwood for care.
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Ball was flanked by Liberal candidate Jerry Dean when he made the announcement in Botwood on Thursday.
Dean won the district of Exploits by just 165 votes in 2015.
Asked Thursday if the Botwood announcement was linked to the campaign, Ball said: "It wasn't really in particularly timed about the election. Of course, it's important to get our messages out."
With files from Garrett Barry and Katie Breen