New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs abruptly cancelled a series of announced health-care reforms on Sunday, including the closure of the emergency rooms at six community hospitals during the overnight hours.
Higgs government faced a growing wave of public backlash after the health-care reforms were announced last week by Health Minister Hugh Flemming.
READ MORE: Six community hospital ERs in N.B. to begin closing overnight, minister says
On Friday, Robert Gauvin, the province’s deputy-premier, quit the Progressive-Conservative party in protest over proposed reforms.
Gauvin told constituents in Shippagan-Lameque-Miscou that he will now sit as an Independent, dealing a blow to the Higgs’ minority government.
Doctors, unions and other health care professionals called on the province to reverse the changes which would’ve seen emergency departments in Sussex, Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls be closed from midnight to 8 a.m
But those plans are now over, with Higgs saying he will visit those communities to “hear from community leaders, the people delivering care and concerned citizens.”
“I can’t in good conscience move forward without addressing the concerns and fears that have been brought to light,” said Higgs in a statement.
The mayor of one of the communities that would’ve been affected by the closures welcomed the decision by the provincial government.
“I am so thankful and I am just ecstatic that the government listened to the concerns of the people,” Marianne Bell, the mayor of Perth-Andover, told Global News on Sunday,
Bell said she believed the proposed changes were bad for her community and said she was surprised that the province had the “humility to pull [back] a plan like this.”
“I am absolutely over the moon. I am so happy for the people in my community and the surrounding areas, for the hospital staff, for the people,” she said.
Bell said she looks forward to the consultations with the province, which are scheduled for April and May.
READ MORE: Doctor calls on province to restore 24/7 emergency room
Higgs also committed to a provincial health-care summit in June that will have the “goal of developing a strategy to ensure a sustainable and reliable public health-care system for the future.”
Findings from the consultations and the summit will then be released this fall.
Despite the change of course, Higgs seemed to issue a veiled warning in his statement on Sunday.
“An aging demographic coupled with a growing labour force shortage is hampering our ability to provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” said the premier.
“But we need people in this province to be part of the solution and that must start with hearing from the people most impacted.”
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