Nova Scotia’s auditor general defended his health-care report Wednesday, following a suggestion from the premier that he overstepped the mandate of his office.
Auditor General Michael Pickup answered questions from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, an all-party committee of MLAs, about his recent reports on family doctors, mental health services and home care.
Pickup opened Wednesday’s meeting with a statement.
“This is a complex area, and I get that, but I use many of these things as an opportunity to talk about the work that we in the office do and the results of that work,” he said.
Pickup released three reports on health care on Nov. 22. The report on family doctors criticizes the province for failing to make sure Nova Scotians understand their health-care system.
The next day, Premier Stephen McNeil said the auditor general should stick to financial audits because he’s not an elected member of the legislature.
During the meeting, Hugh MacKay, Liberal MLA for Chester-St. Margaret’s, defended the government’s job of communicating with Nova Scotians about health care.
MacKay noted the auditor’s report said the province succeeded in keeping key stakeholders informed. It also said the department and health authority met regularly with the IWK Health Centre, Doctors Nova Scotia and Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine.
“We also anticipate and expect them to disseminate that information to their constituent membership,” said MacKay.
MacKay also questioned how the auditor general measures the success of a government communications plan.
Pickup said it was based on whether Nova Scotians understood their health system. He said his audit mandate includes performance reports, so his criticism of government communications as related to health care was within the mandate of his office.
‘We’re not in a big fight’
Pickup said the auditor general’s office worked with the department and the health authority to establish performance criteria and whether the recommendations were reasonable. He said senior officials in both organizations told him what to look for.
“In this case, between the three audits, we had complete understanding and agreement on the criteria,” said Pickup.
The authority and the department accepted all 21 recommendations, and their statements of acceptance were included in the report.
He added that finding flaws in the health-care system doesn’t mean the auditor general is at odds with the government.
“We’re not in a big fight with the organizations that we audit,” Pickup said.
The Public Accounts committee is scheduled to meet with the Department of Health and Wellness and the Nova Scotia Health Authority in December.