Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the health and social services system in the Northwest Territories is in need of fundamental reform. As our population grows, the demands placed on the system grow as well. But at the same time, the resources available for meeting that need have been declining. We need to make changes now, to make sure that the health and social services system of the future will be able to meet northerners' continuing needs. This is essential, if we are to maintain and improve the services offered to our residents in the face of shrinking financial resources.
Reform has to be planned and strategic. We need to make changes for the future now, while still meeting the needs of today.
During the development of the 1997/98 business plan, the Department of Health and Social Services received approval to begin the process of strategic reform. We have done this by committing to a principle-based approach and by beginning to work with our partners in the health care system towards the development of a comprehensive, strategic plan.
The strategic plan will give us a vision of the health and social services system of the future and will show us the steps that must be taken to get there.
In his budget address, last week, my colleague, the Honourable Mr. Todd, referenced this strategic planning process, which will provide the basis for the future development of two, sustainable health care systems.
We are committed to a broad and timely public consultation as an integral part of this process. We need to hear from people across the north about what is important to them, about their expectations and needs and about their ideas on how we can reform the system to meet our goals.
In order to prepare fully for such a public consultation, we must first complete a comprehensive analysis of the current system and a detailed assessment of the challenges facing us and the options facing us. In doing this, we also need to take into consideration the extensive work done by the regional boards, especially the needs assessments already completed. We need to build on the work already done by both board and departmental staff.
To help us with the task of integrating our knowledge and experience into a comprehensive and accurate strategic plan, while still allowing staff to continue their essential work of program delivery, the Department of Health and Social Services has taken the step of contracting with a multi-disciplinary group of health and social services specialists.
This consultant group, Med-Emerg International Incorporated, will provide us with an objective look at the data we have collected. They will review the work we have already done on health and social services reform, identify any information gaps, and ensure that our conclusions are logical and consistent with other initiatives at the territorial, provincial, and federal levels of government.
A team from Med-Emerg will begin visits to the NWT during the next two weeks. They will be meeting with employees of the department and boards, our partners, and our clients. In the weeks following, Med-Emerg will review the data and prepare a draft strategic directions document, which will serve as the basis for the plan to be taken to broad public consultation beginning this summer.
To guide the strategic planning process, I am chairing a steering committee comprised of the chairs of the Baffin and Inuvik Regional Health Boards and the chair of the Northwest Territories Health Care Association.
Mr. Speaker, we need to move quickly to develop this new health and social services system. The benefits of health system reform will take years to realize.
One of the challenges we face is ensuring the infrastructure which supports the provision of public health services. Adequate funding is essential for construction of appropriate facilities. However, this is only one very small part of the total health and social services system.
As my honourable colleague, the Minister of Finance noted, simply increasing funding for social programs is not a long-term solution for the future of the health and social services system. Steps must be taken now to reduce future needs for our services. Through the steps we have taken, the Department of Health and Social Services is moving to develop a health and social services system that will continue to meet the basic needs of northerners for years to come.
In doing this, we are committed to an approach that upholds and builds on the principles of the Canada Health Act - universality, portability, comprehensiveness, accessibility, and public administration - and truly reflects the needs and aspirations of northerners.
By fall of this year, we hope to have a completed strategic plan that will serve as the basis for the development of effective, sustainable health and social services systems in two territories well into the next century.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to consulting further with all of you as we move forward with this plan. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.