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Improving Our Health

Mr. Speaker, strong economic growth enriches a government�s ability to invest in our provincial health care system. Supported by national health accord funding the Premier negotiated with First Ministers, we have made strategic investments in health care, improved access to key services and endeavoured to respond more effectively to the health care needs of our people. This year�s budget invests over $180 million in new health care funding, bringing our total investment in health care to $1.96 billion, a 10 per cent increase over last year�s budget.

Earlier, I announced significant investments in several health care facilities. Complementing this will be additional investments of over $60 million to maintain our core health and community services through our Regional Integrated Health Authorities.

We will invest $15.6 million in new funding this year to help prevent and treat cancer. This includes $1.5 million to enhance the Provincial Cervical Screening Program, $750,000 for breast screening centres in Grand Falls-Windsor and St. John�s and other program enhancements, $3.3 million to construct two new bunkers to house two new radiation treatment machines at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Centre, $6.4 million to introduce new treatment therapies for colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma, and an additional $3.6 million to cover four medications: Eprex and Aranesp for cancer-related anemia, Tarceva for certain lung cancers and Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer.

Under our new policy framework Working Together for Mental Health, we are investing another $1 million to enhance primary mental health services in the province. We will also provide a further $1 million to strengthen resources to assist persons struggling with gambling and other addictions, in addition to the $1.1 million we are investing this year to construct a new, $3 million provincial addictions treatment centre in Corner Brook. Last year, our government froze the number of VLTs in the province and committed to reduce the number in service by 407 (or 15 per cent) over five years, beginning on April 1, 2006. I am pleased to advise that 90 VLTs will be removed from service two days from now. This represents a 3.3 per cent reduction in total VLTs this year. We are now on a track with a plan to remove 428 VLTs by April 1, 2010, a total reduction of almost 16 per cent. In addition, our government is considering other options aimed at reducing problem gambling, and further initiatives may be expected in the near future.

We will also strengthen our public health capacity in the Department of Health and Community Services as well as the regional health authorities. We are adopting an integrated approach across several departments to ensure we are prepared to respond to and manage public health emergencies such as an influenza pandemic, which is a significant public concern around the world.

We will invest $1.3 million to implement the province�s new wellness plan, Go Healthy, in addition to the record $2.4 million we invested in wellness last year; and we will complete ongoing public consultations and use the feedback to develop a new Provincial Healthy Aging Framework.

We will also build on our commitment to improve access to health care services throughout the province. We will invest $6 million to bring the personal care home subsidy rate from $1,138 per month up to $1,500 per month effective July 1, 2006 and provide additional subsidies to address the current wait list. We will reduce the wait list for home support for seniors and persons with disabilities through a $2.7 million investment this year.

In response to growing demands for dialysis services, we are committing $1.5 million this year to address the increased needs of existing sites. We will also proceed with three new renal dialysis units on the Burin Peninsula, at Happy Valley-Goose Bay and at St. Anthony.

We will provide new funding to enable our people, for the very first time, to benefit from in vitro fertilization procedures without having to leave the province.

And we will provide an additional $1.7 million to add new medications to the provincial formulary, including cancer drugs just mentioned. And beginning in September, the provincial formulary will include the Alzheimer�s medications Reminyl, Exelon and Aricept.

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