Today, I pushed in Question Period for the Minister of Health to improve the telehealth program so that people outside of Winnipeg could get better access to care in their own communities through telehealth. This was an oft repeated concern that we heard during our public health care meetings.
Northern Health Care - Telehealth Program
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, in The Pas, February 26th, I was told of a resident who was sent to Winnipeg for an appointment to see a specialist, only to arrive in Winnipeg to find the doctor was on vacation. She wasted 18 hours traveling; $3,000 in transportation costs spent by government were also wasted. The problem could have been easily handled over Telehealth. Northern residents told us the same story again and again.
Why is this government using northern patients' time–wasting their time and public health‑care dollars on transportation when Telehealth means northern patients can access specialists without leaving their hometown?
Hon. Kelvin Goertzen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): Madam Speaker, as we discussed with the member on this particular case on Estimates on Thursday, there are 164 different sites when it comes to Telehealth in the province that can access 60 different specialities and over 200 different 'specialtists,' so we do have a robust system.
In particular, with this particular case, I'm happy to look into the specifics, as I mentioned to the member last week.
If we didn't have a shortfall of $2.2 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years from expected health‑care transfers, we could even do more than the 164 sites and 200 specialists, but we certainly have a robust system, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a supplementary question.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, in Flin Flon, February 27th, we heard that people there have to drive 16 hours to see a specialist in Winnipeg and have to book a hotel and stay overnight.
Manitobans in rural and northern areas have the same right to quality health care as people in Winnipeg and Brandon. We have a system that allows northern residents to see specialists over Telehealth without leaving their community. The system is there, the specialists are there, the patients are waiting.
What is this government's plan to bring them all together so we are spending money on community care instead of on wasted trips?
Mr. Goertzen: I indicated in the last question there are 164 sites and access to 60 different specialties and over 200 specialists. There are about 25,000 or so different eHealth appointments that are held each and every year. The member talks about things being there, so our system is there. It's working for many people.
[Kelvin Goertzen then drifted off topic]
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a final supplementary.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, the system is not using telehealth nearly as much as it should be. We heard from northern residents that they feel abandoned, that they feel unsafe, that they don't understand why they are paying taxes for health care when the government keeps taking away their services. Most of all, they want to be able to get the care they need in their own community. They have the same right to health care as we all do.
Why is this government cutting services that work well, like the Misericordia urgent care and the Corydon primary care centre, when making sure more specialists use telehealth could improve health care in the North while saving millions and millions of dollars on transportation?
Mr. Goertzen: [His reply was completely off topic and not helpful].