Throne Speech Signals Less Health Care for Albertans

Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare, made the following statement today following the Alberta government's Throne Speech:

The 2014 Throne Speech, which outlines business the government will bring to the Legislative Assembly in the upcoming session, showed a clear disconnect between the government's agenda and Albertans' health care needs.

Highlighted in the Throne Speech was the fact that our province will be growing by the size of Red Deer each year for the next 10 years, yet Albertans will see no increase in spending when it comes to social programs, including health care, until at least 2016. The government said it plans to hold spending below population and inflation growth, meaning less money spent on health care per person.

The 2013 budget also included a drop in per capita health care funding.  Since January 2013, those cuts have led to the closure of hospital beds across the province, the loss of front line staff, the closure of surgery beds, and the further attrition to rural health care by centralization.  We also saw a capital plan that included closing 1,700 long-term care beds in the next five years and an aggressive move towards the privatization of seniors care.

If the government wants to be true to its rhetoric of 'Building Alberta' then it cannot leave Albertans and all those moving into our province without access to appropriate levels of health care services.  Basic health services are essential for the recruitment and retention of a healthy and productive workforce.  It does not make financial or social sense.

Seniors care is another area where this government's plan to privatize is showing no sign of letting up.  They say they are committed to building more continuing care beds, but it will not commit specifically to long-term care beds, despite the Premier's election promise to build many more. It is likely that the new beds will rather be Assisted Living beds, which do not provide the level of care of the long-term care beds, for which there is a dire shortage. They say they will also be exploring using provincial lands to build more continuing care beds, but the government's record leads us to believe that his will take the form of more handouts to large corporations looking to make money on the backs of Alberta's seniors.

Refusing to invest in common sense solutions like building more long-term care beds, increasing staffing levels in health care facilities, and restoring rural health care services mean not only a less healthy population, but also as a result, greater health care costs in other areas and longer wait times in emergency rooms. If the government is serious about providing better health care to Albertans, it must make investments in these areas immediately.