New Brunswick is one of the top health-care performers in Canada in terms of patient outcomes and wait times according to a new report released Tuesday by a national policy group.
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy says New Brunswick and British Columbia tied for second place in its annual ranking of provincial health-care systems from the perspective of consumers.
Ontario is in first place in the centre's fourth annual Canada Health Consumer Index, but following close behind are New Brunswick and B.C. Last year, New Brunswick was ranked third, behind Ontario and British Columbia.
The Frontier Centre says New Brunswick's score is above average in the two most heavily weighted categories – patient outcomes and wait times.
"The results of this year's index suggest that Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick form a distinct top tier when it comes to delivering consumer-oriented health care in Canada," Ben Eisen, the study's lead researcher, says.
"Each of the other provinces has at least one area of weakness that they need to address in order to catch up to those three provinces in future comparative evaluations."
It's a rare good news report for the province, which often trails the rest of the country in national rankings.
The other Atlantic provinces finished well down the list, with Nova Scotia coming in last.
Eisen said New Brunswick's wait times are either near the Canadian average or better than the Canadian average for every indicator examined in this report. He said that is a significant reason for the province's strong overall showing this year.
Indicators include hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, CT and MRI scans, emergency surgery for hip fractures and prompt cancer radiation therapy. The data was collected from a variety of sources of consumer health information, most from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada.
One area of weakness identified in the report is that, on average, New Brunswick takes longer to include new medicines in its provincial reimbursement plan after Health Canada designates them safe and effective compared to several other provinces.
Liberal health critic Bill Fraser welcomed the report which he said shows that the former Liberal government's investments in front-line services in New Brunswick have paid off.
But Fraser said he's concerned that New Brunswick will not be able to maintain its top-tier place now that the current Progressive Conservative government has made deep cuts to rural health services.
As well, he said he's very concerned about the impact on New Brunswick of the new federal health accord, which could significantly reduce health transfers to the province in the future.
"We're already suffering slash-and-burn policies because of the cutbacks here in New Brunswick," Fraser said. "What will happen here when the transfers from Ottawa are reduced? How much more can we cut, and where?"
No one from the provincial Tory government was available to comment on Tuesday.
The Frontier Centre, an independent, non-profit think tank, says it is important to recognize that even the top performing provinces still have wait times that are typically longer than those experienced by patients in European countries such as the Netherlands and Germany.