Provincial health authorities have been asked to find ways to trim 10 per cent from a public-health budget of about $450-million to direct more money to "core health services," British Columbia Health Minister Kevin Falcon says.
Public-health spending covers restaurant inspections, disease prevention and control, and a broad range of other programs.
The cost review does not threaten programs such as those aimed at preventing childhood disease, Mr. Falcon said.
"To suggest that important childhood vaccination programs would be impacted is nonsense," Mr. Falcon said Monday in an e-mailed response to an inquiry from The Globe and Mail. "Health authorities will be looking at administrative overhead, duplication of services and contracts with outside agencies and redirect those savings to important programs."
The spending review, aimed at identifying $45-million in potential savings, follows a year of cutbacks as health authorities wrestled with a gap of more than $300-million between their budgets and provincial spending limits.
The budget, released last month, included a $2-billion increase for health care over the next three years that would bring total health spending to $16.1-billion by 2012-13.
Mr. Falcon, meanwhile, is floating ideas such as medical tourism - allowing people from outside the province to pay for medical procedures, thereby making use of equipment and medical staff that are not being used to full capacity because of provincial spending limits - to help offset increasing health-care costs in the province.
Given the belt-tightening that health authorities have already done over the past year, it might be difficult to find $45-million worth of savings in areas such as administration and outside contracts, NDP health critic Adrian Dix said.
Public-health programs can also help reduce costs, he said.
"These are the programs that keep people out of acute care," Mr. Dix said.
Provincial health officer Perry Kendall said he would be keeping a close watch on the review.
"People are very concerned about not making recommendations that would have adverse consequences and I'm going to watch that quite carefully," Dr. Kendall said, adding that B.C. has developed leading programs to tackle public-health problems such as childhood obesity.
Health authorities have just begun the review and are expected to report back to the province over the next few weeks. Health-authority officials said it was too early to say where savings might be identified or which programs could be affected.