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Swapping services: Atlantic premiers consider shared surgical centres

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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is finding support in the legislature to pursue an Atlantic Canadian approach to the delivery of health care, with a focus on surgeries.

Higgs says the Council of Atlantic Premiers has been mulling over the idea of having dedicated centres for specific surgical procedures, which would be available to patients around the region.

“Do we have capacity in one particular surgery, or another?” says Higgs. “Maybe we have room to do heart surgeries in Saint John and maybe there’s some other surgery that could be done in Halifax.”

Higgs says the goal is to ease surgical wait times across the region, adding that no particular procedure has been identified for centralized care.

“But hip or knee could be an example,” says Higgs.

Opposition parties in New Brunswick are open to the idea.

“We should be working collaboratively,” says Liberal MLA Robert McKee. “It should be a public model. We can set up clinics to alleviate pressures by working together, so we’re not taking resources, one from the other, competing against each other.”

Green Party leader David Coon says he’s a supporter of more regional cooperation in a general sense.

“If (Higgs is) serious about collaboration, then let’s pursue collaboration,” says Coon. “And if we’re going to pursue collaboration in this way, on serious matters like health care, then representatives and delegations from each of the legislatures need to be involved in that discussion.”

Higgs says there’s already models to follow for regional collaboration in health care, mentioning the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

Another example of centralized care is the New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John, which accepts cardiac patients from across Atlantic Canada.

“There’s patients moving back and forth between the provinces for different procedures, different consultations,” says Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston. “So that will continue. Certainly the degree of co-operation between the Atlantic provinces in particular is very high, and where we can help one another and support our citizens, we’ll do that.”

New Brunswick’s throne speech from earlier this week makes mention of a new electronic referral program giving patients the option of choosing the first available surgeon for their procedure, or waiting for a surgeon of their choice.

The throne speech also describes a new program for colorectal surgery patients at the Moncton Hospital, a new program for hip and knee replacement surgery patients at the Saint John Regional Hospital, and a new pilot program in Bathurst testing publically funded cataract surgeries in private settings.

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