Study blames surgery wait lists on private clinics; Precious staff taken from public system, report says

The Province

By Ian Austin 

A year-long study of the effect of private clinics on the Canadian public health-care system has concluded that wait times are longest in areas where private clinics take personnel from the public system.

"We found evidence of wait times that are highest in areas with the most privatization, as resources -- financial and human -- are taken out of the public-health system," writes Natalie Mehra in the study entitled, "Eroding Public Medicare: Lessons and Consequences of For-Profit Health Care Across Canada."

"We found a demonstrable reduction in capacity of public non-profit hospitals as a direct result of staff poaching by nearby private clinics."

The study, supported by the Canadian Health Coalition, the B.C. Health Coalition and numerous other groups, studied the effects of 130 private clinics across Canada.

Colleen Fuller, a health-policy researcher with the B.C. Health Coalition, said there is only a finite number of doctors, nurses and technicians, so when those specialized workers choose to work in private clinics, wait times increase at public facilities.

"This has been shown across Canada, as well as in other countries," said Fuller. "And the private clinics are 'cream-skimming' -- they only perform the types of surgeries that don't usually cause complications.

"They leave the unprofitable procedures that cause complications to the public system."

Reid Johnson, president of the B.C. Health Sciences Association, which represents 15,000 health-care and social-services members, said the parallel public and private systems are not helping.

"There's a limited pool of workers, and they're going to work in either the public or private system."

B.C. Health Minister George Abbott said the report is the work of unions and the NDP who don't want a modernized health-care system.

"The NDP is taking a totally hypocritical and hysterical stand on this issue. The ground rules are exactly the same as they were under the NDP," he said.

NDP health critic Adrian Dix said average wait times in B.C. are 90 days, triple the 30-day average wait in Ontario.

"If a person needs surgery, but they need an MRI first, they can pay $1,000 for an MRI right away, or wait eight months," he said. "That isn't just queue-jumping for an MRI.That's queue-jumping for surgery."