Provincial care plan released, next steps unknown

Emphasis on moving care to rural centres from Winnipeg, but few concrete promises in report

Manitoba has a new provincial clinical services plan, but the fate of some northern medical services, including obstetrics in Flin Flon, is still unknown.

The Provincial Clinical and Preventative Services Plan (PCPSP) was released Nov. 29 by the provincial government and Shared Health, a province-wide clinical services group dealing with aspects of Manitoba medical care.

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As part of the plan’s release, the province announced a series of pledges to be completed over the next five years – to move 21,000 days of care away from Winnipeg-based facilities to facilities in smaller communities, provide better assistance for small town care, make it easier for members of the public to receive lab results, extend the provincial acute care electronic record system and provide remote monitoring of chronic health issues to 800 more Manitobans.

“Our government has committed to investing $2 billion in Manitoba’s health-care system over the next four years including $250 million for initiatives identified by clinical leaders that will improve access to services and reduce wait lists for Manitoba patients,” said provincial health minister Cameron Friesen.

“This made-in-Manitoba plan provides a blueprint to improve how we plan and where we deliver services, allowing us to better meet the needs of rural and northern residents while reducing their need to travel to Winnipeg.”

“Manitoba’s population of 1.3 million is geographically dispersed, with varied levels of population growth, an overall aging population and pockets of younger Manitobans particularly among the province’s Indigenous communities and in the north. Social determinants of health such as income, education and employment rates impact health outcomes and services planned and delivered via five regional health authorities (RHAs) each with varied disease prevalence and health status,” reads a Shared Health statement on the plan’s release.

“A quarter of Manitoba’s population lives outside the province’s urban centres yet a significant percentage of Manitoba’s health-care providers work in urban settings while nearly all specialists are located in Winnipeg.”

Consultations on the plan’s creation included a number of northern health care professionals and administrators.

“Nearly 3,000 Manitobans, including hundreds of front-line providers, clinical experts and operational leaders from across the province, including the Northern Health Region, have contributed their ideas and feedback to building a system that is equipped to meet the needs of a growing and changing population in a sustainable way,” read a statement from a Shared Health spokesperson.

“This is a five-year plan that includes principles that will see some care shift from Winnipeg to rural and northern areas; some care shift from institutions to the community; and some care shift to a combination of in-person and virtual support. It does not make specific recommendations about sites or services.”

Aside from the pledges, few firm commitments regarding facilities and services were made in the plan. Throughout the 300-plus pages of reports, information and pledges released jointly by the province and Shared Health, no immediate promises or funding announcements regarding service at Flin Flon General Hospital were made. The Shared Health spokesperson said decisions on service would be decided by regional health authorities, such as the Northern Health Region (NHR).

“Work now will shift to detailed planning and working closely with regional health authorities and local communities, like Flin Flon, to make decisions that identify areas in need of investment or focus based on the needs of the population, which may include modernizing the kind of care available at home and in the community,” said the spokesperson.

Perhaps the NHR’s biggest recent decision on services was the suspension of Flin Flon obstetrics care last fall. NHR officials, including CEO Helga Bryant, said the future of the service in Flin Flon was tied to the results of the provincial plan. While a section of the report does go over data for each provincial facility regarding births and neonatal care, no firm commitment was released regarding the future of the obstetrics program.

Response to the plans’ release from the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) was tepid, with the organization saying they were not adequately consulted during the plan’s creation.

“Once again, nurses are left with more questions than answers following the release of a health care plan that will have significant impacts on staff and patients across the province,” read a statement from MNU president Darlene Jackson.

“This plan was developed without meaningful consultation with the MNU and frontline nurses. It proposes major changes to how health care is delivered in rural and northern Manitoba and could mean longer travel times to emergency and primary care facilities.”

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