09/23/2013 10:05 EDT | Updated 11/23/2013 05:12 EST

New Brunswick health plan recycles past goals, head of doctors' union says

FREDERICTON - A five-year plan that emphasizes containing New Brunswick's growing health costs recycles the same goals that governments have set out in the past, says the head of the union that represents the province's doctors.

Dr. Robert Desjardins, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, panned the government's new health plan released Monday.

"I don't see anything new in the details of how medical services will be available or distributed within the province," Desjardins said.

But Health Minister Hugh (Ted) Flemming said the plan, which was more than eight months in the making, isn't meant to be detailed. Instead, the 23-page document is intended to set out a vision as the government decides how to rein in health care costs.

"It's the guiding principles that direct how decisions are being made," Flemming told a news conference at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.

He said the Progressive Conservative government wants to ensure access to effective and equitable care in the province, encourage people to live healthier lifestyles and help keep seniors in their homes longer.

But Flemming said it has to be done within the existing $3 billion health care budget, which takes up about 40 per cent of the province's expenditures.

"Money is not the issue, it's how we spend it," Flemming said.

"You can disagree with what we're going to do about it, and you can disagree with our methodology, but all New Brunswickers understand that this thing cannot continue to grow at five to eight per cent every year left unchecked."

Flemming said there are no plans to close any hospitals, but he said cutting jobs will be hard to avoid when salaries make up 75 per cent of the health care budget.

Flemming said one new initiative in the plan will be prescription drug insurance for uninsured New Brunswickers, and a list of new initiatives will be issued every spring, starting next year.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said the plan was too light on detail and should have set out specific goals with deadlines.

"It's not a plan, it's rhetoric," Gallant said.

"We need a plan that has specifics, measurables, has time frames and shows New Brunswickers we know where we're going regarding health care."

Green party Leader David Coon agreed.

"It is so light on detail, it is quite appalling," Coon said.