Opposition raises concerns about Nova Scotia Health’s missing business plans

NDP Leader Claudia Chender says there’s a lack of public accountability at the provincial health authority after revealing the organization was given permission not to produce a business plan for 2022-23 and noting that no subsequent plans have been posted online.

During question period at the legislature on Thursday, Chender said an access to information request for the business plan generated a response saying Nova Scotia Health was given the OK not to produce the document.

The Health Authorities Act requires that the document be produced and submitted to the health minister each year and that it includes annual operating expenses, coordination with community health boards and a public engagement plan.

Chender told reporters that not having a plan available for the public to see means people cannot gauge progress by Nova Scotia Health. No plans have been posted yet for 2023-24 or 2024-25, either.

“All we can do is hear the premier refute every negative question and then tell us that things are getting better when they clearly aren’t,” she said.

“The premiere can say the sky is green, that doesn’t make it true.”

A woman with glasses stands in front of microphones.
Health Minister Michelle Thompson says she is confident in the level of transparency at Nova Scotia Health. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said that as far as she knows, all legislative and policy requirements were met, despite the 2022-23 business plan not being produced.

Thompson said officials faced a lot of work related to the government’s action for health plans at the time, as well as navigating the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“I would say that ’22-23 was a bit of an anomaly,” she told reporters.

Thompson said she wasn’t sure why the two most recent business plans had yet to be posted online, but that they had been submitted to her department and signed off on.

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health said a version of the 2022-23 business plan was not delivered to the minister until April of last year.

“[G]”even the timing in the business planning cycle, it was agreed that there was no longer a need for that year’s plan to be finalized as work had turned to the next fiscal year,” Jennifer Lewandowski said in a statement.

Lewandowski said the 2023-24 business plan should be published online within 30 days, but the 2024-25 plan is not yet finalized.

“July would be a good estimate of timing for this and you can contact us to obtain the link.”

‘It’s not improving’

But Chender said it seems to be in the government’s interest not to publish plans in a timely manner, if at all. She noted that at a time when the government was making record spending on health care, it’s not seeing the kind of results the public would hope for.

“Health care is getting precipitously worse. We have fewer people attached to primary care, we have emergency rooms closed more often; whatever the metric is, it’s not improving.”

Thompson said he’s confident the health authority is operating in a transparent manner. Data about the health-care system is posted online and Thompson and other senior officials have traveled the province meeting with the public to answer questions, she said.

When the Tories formed government, they removed the health authority’s board and fired the CEO, replacing him with a political appointee.

“We did say the day after we formed government that we, for a period of time, would have a health leadership team,” said Thompson.

A system in transition

That team includes interim CEO Karen Oldfield, who has retained that tag since being appointed more than two years ago. Thompson said there are no plans at this point to change that designation.

“I would say that that position has not been made permanent and I would say, arguably, any of us in these roles currently are interim. I’m probably the interim health minister, if you look at it that way.”

The system is in a time of transition and Thompson said what’s important to her is that Oldfield is doing the work the government needs her to do “in order to move the health system forward.”

“She’s an important and competent member of the health team.”