Health ads questioned in face of budget freeze

A new promotional campaign by the health department has some questioning what it cost since the provincial government has frozen the hospital budgets and convinced doctors to forgo fee increases.

A new promotional campaign by the health department has some questioning what it cost since the provincial government has frozen Nova Scotian hospital budgets and convinced doctors to forgo fee increases.

"Everyone gets sick or injured now and then," says the animated advertisement.

The province has bought $135,000 worth of TV time to run the Better Care Sooner ad.

The health department is also spending $115,000 to send every home a brochure and fridge magnet with the same message — if you don't need emergency care, there are other options.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said in some cases, visiting a clinic or phoning 811 for nursing advice is better than going to the local emergency room.

"It means we waste money doing assessments that do not need to be done in those locations [emergency rooms] and people have longer waits when they could actually get their needs taken care of faster if they can get to the right location," MacDonald said.

MacDonald may be sold on the campaign but Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, is not, even though she does support the province's 811 help line.

"You know it is a good service. I know people who have used it and it will hopefully divert some people from the emergency rooms but it should by word of mouth."

Jessome said if the province was living up to its better care sooner slogan — the money on the ad campaign would be going to provide even better services.

Money spent on 811 campaign

Production: $24,500

Buying air time: $135,000

Brochures: $50,000

Fridge Magnets: $19,600

Postal delivery: $45,000

Total: $274,100

The minister defended the expense.

"In a system where we spend $3.8 billion annually on health care, doing some public education that costs in the vicinity of let's say $250,000 is a drop in the bucket and money well spent. If it helps us get people the care they need in the right place with the right providers," said MacDonald.

"That's a quarter million dollars that's certainly not going to the bedside," said Jessome. "And that's what you hear CEOs and the minister talking about and this government talking about the bedside won't be affected."

Jessome said if the government was providing better care sooner — it wouldn't need the campaign.

"Well I think if you're providing it, then you don't have to promote it because it will speak for itself," she said.

The province said it has proof the campaign is already having an effect on 811 service.

In the past month calls are up 15 per cent.

That's on top of the fact calls have doubled since last July.

A year ago 811 nurses were answering about 175 calls a day. They're now fielding 330 a day.