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'Let's try something new': N.B. premier says Canada's health-care system needs to be reformed

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Following a meeting about the country's dire health-care situation, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the current public system is not working and things need to change for it to improve.

"We've seen the challenges across the country in our public health care and I know we all want to maintain the building for us to have a publicly-funded system, but we have to find innovative ways to deliver that so the people can get the health care they need. And today, it's pretty obvious they can't," said Higgs during an interview Monday on CTV News at Six.

Higgs met with the premiers of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday to discuss Canada’s health-care issues. The four premiers noted that a “Team Canada” approach is needed to fix the problems and said the country’s leaders need to come together and create a plan to reduce emergency wait times and surgery backlogs, but they didn’t offer any specifics as to how or when that might happen.

When asked if changes to the health-care system could mean the beginning of privatized care options, Higgs said it's a discussion that isn't off the table.

"I don't think anything at this stage is definitive, but I think it's possible," said Higgs. "I think that it will still be publicly funded. What we have to do is look at, what are our critical wait times for areas that are certainly threatening health care … and where do we improve those and how do we best improve them?

"So, I don't think we should dismiss any possibility to make those improvements, and in fact, I think the public would demand it. Let's ensure that we have a health-care system that delivers and yes, it will continue to be funded by the public as most people would expect, but we need to be sure that we open up our minds to innovative processes and improvements."

During a news conference that followed the meeting between the four premiers, Higgs mentioned one factor in the health-care system that could change is the idea of having a "doctor for life." Higgs said this method could change so that patients instead have a "clinic for life."

"Well, we're seeing in the demographics and certainly, with the new doctors coming into the workforce, is that they don't want to work the same hours, and for good reason, that the older docs would have worked and have thousands of patients, that they solely had a practice," Higgs said.

"Across the country, I think we see variations of that. But what we're seeing is that the new graduates want to have a clinical base. They want to have peers that they work with, and so, you would have a clinic that you're assigned to or you have access to, but you might not have a name of a doctor who is going to see you every time at the clinic."

Higgs said such clinics could also help alleviate pressure on emergency departments across the Maritimes.

"I think that applies to ERs. When you come in, you go to the ER because you don't have an option. Well, let's say you don't need to be in emergency, your situation is not an emergency, but you can have this appointment with the clinic tomorrow or two days from now. I think that's where we need to head because the demographics and the work-life balance that is being demanded by health-care professionals is certainly evident and we need to accommodate that."

Higgs said the premiers are also looking at learning from best practices across the country, or even outside of Canada.

"Let's not be in a cocoon here where we are afraid to open up the boundaries and say, 'What is really working?' and, 'Why does this work elsewhere but it doesn't work here?' I think we basically have an unmanaged health-care system. I've been saying that for years," New Brunswick's premier said.

"It has come to light right now across the country that, we can't just keep pouring money into it -- and we've all done it, government after government has done it, and it hasn't been successful. So, let's try something new. Let's actually, in addition to funding -- and we've certainly asked for more funding because we know health-care costs will continue to rise -- but let’s be innovative about procedures that are being delivered in order to get better results."

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