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B.C. government turns to for-profit clinics, could create 'full-blown' private hospitals

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Photo: Amanda Graham/flickr

The Council of Canadians supports public solutions to wait times, not expensive contracts with for-profit private clinics.

The Vancouver Sun reports, "British Columbia is turning to private clinics to help ease a massive backlog of surgeries... Health Minister Terry Lake announced $10 million on Monday [June 1] to push through common surgical procedures -- orthopedics, hernias, cataracts, gallbladder, plastic surgery, and ear, nose and throat procedures -- for those waiting more than 40 weeks. The extra money will be used to conduct up to 1,000 new surgeries, some of which will be done in private clinics when there are no available operating rooms in public hospitals."

"Under current laws, private clinics are not supposed to collect money from patients if the treatment is an insured service in the public system. Lake said B.C. remains fully against a two-tier health system, but the government has used private clinics in the past and considers many of its physicians to be private health care contractors. ...A Health Ministry official said the 'cost of doing procedures in a private surgical facility is generally comparable to what it would have cost to do them in a public health care facility' but could not offer a specific comparison."

"NDP critic Judy Darcy chastised the government for turning to private clinics when underfunding has left some hospital surgical rooms empty. The government estimates 82 per cent of its 295 operating rooms are fully operational, with the rest unused due to financial or staffing shortages. ...If the province properly funded the public operating rooms it could help retain staff and have a better long-term impact on waiting times than short-term contracts with the private sector, she said. ...[Darcy says] 'It's yet another short-term fix that shifts services to private clinics rather than addressing the serious problems in the public system.'"

CTV adds, "The one-time funding is only designed as a short-term solution to B.C.'s long wait lists, but the Ministry of Health has tasked the Provincial Surgery Executive Committee with coming up with a long-term plan to deal with the issue."

That's additionally worrisome given the British Columbia Health Coalition's analysis of that long-term plan. It has stated, "Many of B.C.'s public hospital Operating Rooms stand empty for hours and hours every week -- but a recent policy paper from the Ministry of Health shows they are considering signing over more public surgeries to expensive and risky private, for-profit clinics. The province even seems to be considering changing B.C.'s laws to allow for-profit clinics to keep patients for up to three days. This legislative change would basically create full-blown private hospitals in B.C. The policy paper is still under consideration."

Notably, this is all happening just months before the Dr. Brian Day court challenge on wait times.

A Vancouver Sun article highlights, "Day contends in his suit that patients should have the constitutional right to pay for care in private clinics if waits in the public system are too long. 'I think [Lake's plan] is a good initiative. I think it's, in a way, brave of the government to do this when it's involved in a lawsuit,' said Day."

"Day's lawsuit is expected to last seven months and is tentatively scheduled in the B.C. Supreme Court at the end of the year."

Dr. Chris Simpson of the Wait Time Alliance has stated, "Excessive wait times are not the price Canadians must pay for universal health care, despite what some would have us believe. Long wait times are a symptom of poor systemic performance or poor coordination between systems." The Alliance has recommended, "That governments, regional health authorities and hospital administrators along with health care providers should implement strategies to make better use of surgical infrastructure (both physical and health human resources), such as making better use of untapped health infrastructure in community hospitals and rural areas."

For more on the Council of Canadians health-care campaign, please click here.

Photo: Amanda Graham/flickr

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