WINNIPEG -- One of the Winnipeg hospitals undergoing a revamp ordered by Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government had to briefly redirect some patients from its emergency department this week.
No emergency cases were affected, hospital officials said Thursday, but the province's opposition parties warned that the situation was an example of deteriorating health care under the Tories.
"This is not just a policy issue. We're talking about real patients. We're talking about potentially life-threatening situations," said Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
The government is in the middle of changing the network of health care in Winnipeg. The city has registered among the longest wait times in Canada, even with six emergency departments at various hospitals -- more than larger cities such as Calgary.
The Tory plan is to convert three of the emergency departments into urgent care centres, which do not deal with life-threatening cases such as heart attacks, and to concentrate specialized services in the remaining emergency rooms, including St. Boniface Hospital.
The plan coincides with government spending restraint. Health-care funding this year is forecast to increase by less than one per cent from last year.
An internal staff memo at St. Boniface, obtained by Global News, said patient volumes Wednesday had reached "critical and unsafe levels" and some patients were to be sent elsewhere for up to 24 hours.
"Your assistance in temporarily redirecting requests for admission from our site to other locations within the region is needed," the memo stated.
The hospital's president said it was only the second time such a directive had been issued in the last year and the patients being redirected were not emergency cases.
"It's patients that had been seen by either medicine, by either surgery, by either cardiology ... and were asked to come back to (the emergency department) for either exam results or other exams," Martine Bouchard said.
The Manitoba Nurses Union said the government's changes have left nurses struggling to keep up with increased workloads at all Winnipeg hospitals.
"There simply aren't enough beds or staff to deal with the increase in high-acuity patients that are now being redirected across the system," union president Darlene Jackson said in a written statement.
The government has already faced pushback from opponents, unions and the public on the planned changes. It recently backed away from a plan to convert the emergency room at Concordia Hospital to a walk-in clinic. The planned clinic was upgraded to an urgent-care centre.
The NDP and Liberals have promised to undo much of the government's health care changes if they win an election widely expected to be coming in September.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the government's approach is the right one to cut long wait times under the former NDP government.
"We are fixing that broken system. The work isn't always easy, but we are striving to ensure we all work together to provide improved patient care and outcomes," Friesen said in a written statement.
"There was a temporary surge in patient volumes at St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department yesterday. Volume levels were almost entirely resolved by this morning and the internal redirection request has been subsequently lifted."