Investing in B.C.'s future health Sunday, 25 March 2012 02:00by Norm Letnick My vision is to see British Columbians enjoying the best overall health-care system in the country, which continues to provide care responsive to individual patient needs and values. That means an efficient system that avoids waste and delivers the lowest wait times in the country. A fair system that distributes health resources equitably, providing care that does not vary in quality becauseof personal characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location or socioeconomic status. Health care will always be a government priority, and spending on health will continue to increase. However, we need to invest wisely and effectively by providing services that best meet the current and future needs of our population. To get the best value for our tax dollars, we'll need to be innovative. I'd like to share some of the province's investment successesas well as wait-time reduction and prevention strategies. Since 2001, the province has spent almost $7 billion on health capital projects. This includes several large projects in Surrey, Victoria and Fort St. John. In the Okanagan, $433 million is being invested for new patient care towers at Kelowna General Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital. The $448-million Interior Heart and Surgical Centre will accommodate the new Interior cardiac surgery program and new hospital surgical suite and support services. In total, these projects represent almost $1 billion in health-care capital investments in this region, benefitting the health of British Columbians and creating thousands of jobs. Over the next three years, British Columbia's health-care system will benefit from further investments, such as new medical equipment and modernized health facilities as part of a $1.9-billion health sector capital plan. We are also working on reducing wait times through innovation and prevention strategies to help British Columbians stay healthy. Emergency room congestion is an overall indicator of patient safety and quality, and our government is committed to continuing to improve ERcare acrossthe province. Since 2001, $400 million has been invested to improve and expand 35 emergency departments across British Columbia. Patient-focused funding is providing financial incentives to health authorities to improve timely quality care for patients while also promoting better management of resources and dollars. For example, Vancouver General Hospital improved the percentage of admitted patients meeting target times to 70 per cent (from 50 per cent), in spite of a 10 per cent increase in the number of ERvisits. We are expanding patient-focused funding across B.C.,and committing up to $250 million over two years, to provide quicker emergency department care, reduce surgery wait times and increase the number of same-day surgical procedures.
Prevention is the key when it comes to having one of the best health-care systems in the country. Chronic diseaseslike diabetes and heart diseaseaccount for more than half of all deaths in B.C.and represent more than $2 billion in associated health-care costs. Many chronic diseasesare preventable or their onset delayed by healthy lifestyle choices. In May 2011, the province's $68.7-million Healthy Families B.C.health promotion and prevention strategy was launched to help British Columbians make the healthier choice the easier choice. The strategy supports reducing chronic diseasesand obesity levels through increased accessto healthy eating and physical activity initiatives. Healthy Families B.C.also helped with the implementation of a variety of healthy living initiatives to improve the health of B.C.families and promote wellness in every part of the province. This includes Prescription for Health, which offers family doctors additional tools to conduct medical assessments and work with at-risk patients to develop a health promotion and illness prevention plan. With an aging population, the province will continue to embrace innovation to make health-care delivery more efficient and sustainable to meet families' needs. In the months to come, the Select Standing Committee on Health will be focused on estimating the shortfall between government revenues available for health care and the increasing cost of delivering health care as the boomer generation ages. British Columbia's health system is considered one of the best in Canada. We will continue to look for new approaches that will benefit patients and ensure a sustainable system that will remain strong for future generations. Norm Letnick is the MLA for Kelowna Lake Country and chairman of the Select Standing Committee on Health for British Columbia.