11/30/2012 09:38 EST | Updated 01/30/2013 05:12 EST

New Brunswick announces plan to balance English and French health services

FREDERICTON - A new five-year health plan will help ensure patients across New Brunswick will have access to care in either English or French, the province's health minister said Friday.

Hugh Flemming said the plan includes a list of new and expanded services that are intended to improve accessibility and the delivery of services. He said when new health services are added in the future, the government will try to locate them in a district that does not offer it.

"This government is committed to delivering the highest quality health care in a sustainable fashion to all New Brunswickers in the language of their choice," Flemming told the provincial legislature.

Flemming said outside the legislature that the plan will cost about $9 million to implement.

The plan is in response to complaints that services were not equally distributed between the Horizon Health Network, which represents mainly English areas of the province, and the Vitalite Health Network, which covers mainly Francophone regions.

The group Egalite sante en francais had threatened to sue the government if it didn't provide equal services in English and French, but dropped the idea in 2010 when the previous Liberal government promised to come up with a plan.

Dr. Hubert Dupuis, the group's president, said he's pleased the plan has been unveiled.

"This day marks the day that the New Brunswick government has recognized that there is inequality between the health services in the francophone institutions and the anglophone institutions," Dupuis said.

"We are writing a page of history today."

The plan sees new services added or expanded mainly in the francophone areas of the province, but says access to care will also be improved for francophones living in Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi.

Thierry Arseneau, executive director of the St. Anne Community Centre in Fredericton, said he welcomed the changes.

"We are happy to see that the government recognizes that tens of thousands of francophones are serviced by Horizon and we haven't been forgotten," he said.

Liberal health critic Donald Arseneault said he was pleased to see the plan but was concerned Flemming didn't tell the legislature what it cost.

"There's also no mention of the timelines other than the five years, so when will they be implemented?" Arseneault said.

Flemming said services will be added when there are adequate patient volumes and are financially sustainable, but isn't setting out specific dates for any of the promised changes.

The changes include a new provincial cornea transplant program at the Dr. Georges Dumont Hospital in Moncton, a heart failure management program in Edmundston, and improved plastic surgery services in the Chaleur region.