The Fraser Health Authority will cut elective surgeries by 10 to 15 per cent, place a cap on MRI procedures and reduce management positions in an effort to meet a budget shortfall of up to $160-million that the opposition alleges was hidden from the public during the last provincial election.
The region plans to balance its budget by cutting back-room costs and slashing $15-million in front line services such as surgeries, president and chief executive officer Nigel Murray said.
"Cost growth in the health sector is fairly relentless," Dr. Murray said. "Yes, we are facing significant budget challenges."
The FHA is the province's fastest-growing and most populous health region. B.C.'s six health authorities face a $360-million shortfall.
New Democrat Health Critic Adrian Dix said the Liberal government failed to increase funding at the same pace as inflation and staff costs. He said 6,000 to 9,000 surgeries will be put off by Fraser Health in the next year.
"These are all serious medically necessary surgeries [being cancelled]it's political incompetence, it's misleading politics, and its political cowardice," said Mr. Dix, who suspects vascular and thoracic will be among the services affected. "It means that people will be waiting longer and longer in pain."
He alleged decisions on cuts were delayed by the regions until after the Liberal government was re-elected three months ago. Dr. Murray denied that claim.
"I just totally disagree with that," he said, saying cost-cutting began a year ago.
Fraser Health also said it would reduce spending on travel and consulting, close temporary beds and limit staff overtime. MRIs will be held to budgeted 2009 levels. The region has already laid off management and support staff and more layoffs are coming, Dr. Murray said.
"We have been working on some of these admin and support savings for over a year," he said. "Our priority is to minimize the impact or service revision. That's the last place we want to go."
Services for seniors and the mentally ill will be cut. They include services for sexual abuse victims and the scuttling of the New Westminster domestic violence response team, Mr. Dix said.
Fraser Health's deficit is between $130-million and $160-million, four months into its fiscal year.
Last month, Health Minister Kevin Falcon sent a letter to health authority chief executives ordering them to cut costs, saying the province wouldn't be providing any bailout money.
"You will also face some tough choices in the year ahead to live within your means," the letter said.