Recently, I had the privilege of joining Joy Peacock, Executive Director of ARNBC, in the B.C. Budget Lockup. For those who are not aware, this is a secured room wherein around 200 stakeholders have an advanced preview of the details of the budget and service plans. This is also where the media interviews these stakeholders in order to get their stories aired in a timely manner following the budget speech.
This was the first time ARNBC was invited to participate in the Budget Lockup – an event that can only be attended by invitation of the Finance Minister. Beginning January 1 of this year, ARNBC entered a new phase, and is now a member-driven organization representing all B.C. registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Being invited to participate in Budget Lockup was a strong signal of how government views the importance of the Association and the work we’ve been mandated to do.
The budget itself was a relatively benign affair for healthcare. Increases to healthcare spending will be a very modest 2.9% per year. My review of the Ministry of Health service plan noted much of the same language as last year: commitments to primary disease prevention and health promotion, improving primary/community care through inter-professional teams, and improving rural healthcare to name a few. From a theoretical perspective – this is music to the ears of the nursing profession. As we know and have been educated, these points are among the mainstays of what are needed to reform healthcare. What is concerning is a lack of a blueprint of how we get there. We are talking about a fundamental shift in how healthcare is delivered to become more up-stream, integrated, and team-based. Uttering the correct words is a fine start, but such an objective will require dedicated monies to operationalize this plan, as well as an understanding that this will be a front heavy, longer term process. That is, the benefits will be slower to materialize than can fit in a single budget year or government election cycle. The other point lacking is collaboration with nursing. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners possess exactly the knowledge and expertise of a healthcare system described in the service plan. It is simply a waste of available talent, capacity and leadership to exclude nursing from the spheres of policy planning and implementation.
Also disappointing was the lack of mention of nurse practitioners when commenting on plans for improving access to full service primary care. Over the past 10 years, NPs have slowly been implemented to improve access for British Columbians to primary health care – both in urban and rural settings. Once again, new NPs find themselves without an existing hiring initiative, let alone a robust funding model, to permit them the opportunity to improve primary healthcare access to regions of the province in desperate need of help.
On the brighter side, I was pleased to observe the significant step of eliminating the clawback of child-support payments for single parents on income or disability assistance. This is a relatively low cost intervention (costing only $19 million annually but helping to lift nearly 6000 children out of poverty) which directly impacts the health of these individuals and the health of our society. Nursing has long known the impacts of social determinants on health and government would do very well to continue to explore these evidenced based health and social policy reforms.
The media scrum that occurred towards the end of lockup was a chaotic scene – throngs of stakeholders and reporters mobbing each other. I noticed a friend of mine in the crowd representing another group. “How does this thing work?” I asked. “You just grab the next available reporter and talk to them” she expertly answered. Seemed simple enough yet daunting to the novice that I am, but as I observed the goings on, there did seem to be an order amongst the madness. I did manage to speak with a few reporters about our associations’ reactions to the budget and with luck they may use the story.
I will sharpen my elbows for the next opportunity.
Zak's interest in health and healing began at the early age of nine years-old when he would carry a small first aid kit while playing with friends. Since then, his passion for healthcare and health policy has been unwavering. He was particularly inspired by concepts of family, community, and societal health, as well as the social determinants of health during his nursing undergraduate (BSN UVic, 2000), graduate work (MN UVic, 2008), and clinical experience in urban, rural and remote B.C. communities.
Zak has served on numerous boards and committees, including the BC Nurse Practitioners Association Executive and is the only Nurse Practitioner in B.C. who has been invited to sit on a Division of Family Practice Board (Interior). Through this work he has gained valuable experience in member engagement, optimizing board governance, and relationship building among diverse stakeholders. In his clinical practice, Zak has worked med/surg, emergency, intensive care, vascular access and outpost nursing. After obtaining his NP education six years ago, he began a practice in a West Kootenay family clinic, providing primary healthcare to the general public with a focus on marginalized populations. Zak is president-elect of ARNBC.