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Liberals planning dramatic health-care cuts, NDP critic charges

B.C. New Democrats say a leaked document shows the Liberal government is about to make dramatic health-care cuts to the province's fastest-growing region because of a $160-million budget shortfall that was hidden from voters during the recent election.

NDP health critic Adrian Dix said yesterday that the Fraser Health Authority will close at least five operating rooms, reducing the number of surgeries by 10 per cent, along with cancelling 2,000 operations early next year during the Olympics.

But Nigel Murray, president and CEO of the health authority, said Mr. Dix is misleading the public by using a weeks-old planning document that was merely full of ideas that hadn't been approved.

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Dr. Murray acknowledged reviews are under way to determine efficiencies in the system.

"I can't rule out that there will be changes to some of our front-line clinical services."

Two weeks ago, Health Minister Kevin Falcon sent a letter to health authority chief executives ordering them to cut costs to avoid a $360-million deficit, saying the province wouldn't be providing any bailout money as costs continue to climb.

"You will also face some tough choices in the year ahead to live within your means," Mr. Falcon's letter said.

He told reporters health authority managers have committed to balancing their budgets this year.

The health authorities said they would take measures including capping or reducing some health services such as MRI scans and elective surgeries.

The Vancouver Coastal Health authority pledged to cut elective surgeries during the 2010 Winter Olympics, based on the experience of other host cities that saw demand fall during the Games.

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Mr. Falcon was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Dix said the Opposition was provided with a leaked document from someone within the Fraser Health Authority. There is no date on the document, which is titled Draft for Discussion Purposes. It is not clear when it was written or when the plan outlined within it is supposed to be enacted.

Mr. Dix said the Fraser health region, which stretches from Burnaby to Hope, B.C., already has the lowest number of per capita acute-care beds in Canada. But according to the document, it will lose 200 of them because of the budget crunch.

But Dr. Murray said the beds will not be eliminated and neither will the diabetes programs in Delta and Mission, as Mr. Dix had claimed.

Mr. Dix said maternity services will also be reduced and a pediatric ward that opened at Langley Memorial Hospital in February could be axed by the Liberals.

Dr. Murray said reviews are being conducted of pediatric and maternity services to figure out how "we can best configure them." The authority is working with the neighbouring Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to amalgamate some departments to deal with budget challenges, he said.

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Mr. Dix said during the election, the government denied there was a budget shortfall.

"They said that there would be no cuts to patient care."

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