OTTAWA – Natalie Mehra says The Ontario Health Coalition is drawing a line in the sand when it comes to service transfers to private endoscopy clinics from The Ottawa Hospital.
Speaking at a “Code Blue” forum in Ottawa last night, the director of the coalition said the privatization of these hospital services were “unprecedented,” part of a series of changes that had become “divorced” from planning around patient need in the Ottawa region.
Mehra raised questions about the capacity of these private clinics to absorb 4,000 endoscopies, particularly when they were likely to lengthen wait lists.
Given endoscopies are going to be individually funded by the Local Health Integration Networks this year, funding normally allocated to the hospital for these procedures cannot flow from the LHIN to the private clinics given such clinics are outside the scope of the LHIN.
The transfer of endoscopies to private for-profit clinics also is in direct contradiction of the Ontario Health Minister’s commitment to transfer services to not-for-profit providers in the community.
Mehra also debunked the myth that the cuts to hospital services were merely part of a new reorganization of health care, noting the lack of funding support from Queen’s Park to home care over the last decade. Even with the recent funding increases, per patient funding is lower today than it was before the McGuinty Liberals took power in 2003.
She says the hospitals have already been cut to make room for community-based care, listing 18,500 bed cuts over the last twenty years as evidence. Per capita hospital funding in Ontario is now the lowest in Canada.
The Canadian Health Coalition’s Mike McBane used his ten minutes in the forum to highlight the ten reasons for rejecting for-profit investor-owned privatization of health care delivery.
“It’s important to be armed with the facts when face with all of this misinformation from politicians,” he said.
The peer-reviewed evidence shows that for-profit health care delivered by shareholder-driven companies cost more, have higher death rates, more serious deficiencies in staffing and resources, greater opportunities for fraud, and longer waits for those who cannot afford to pay to jump the queue.
He pointed to Vancouver’s Cambie Clinic as an example of how private for-profit companies cherry pick their patients, preferring those who are both healthy and have sufficient cash.
“Treating only the rich and the healthy – that’s perverse medicine,” he said. McBane pointed out that when something goes wrong in these clinics, they call an ambulance and the patient is immediately transferred back to the public system.
Dr. Brian Day, the owner of the Cambie Clinic, has been defying the politicians to charge him for breaking the law with regards to extra billing for medically necessary procedures.
McBane also said that for-profit medicine is inherently in a conflict of interest when company doctors can make referrals to diagnostic clinics that enhance their profits.
Unnecessary referrals that contribute to shareholder profits also add to the rising costs of public health care.
McBane says former Royal Commission Chair Roy Romanow could find no evidence to support for-profit health care delivery in Canada.
Noting a full room at the McNabb Community Centre, McBane said Medicare didn’t come from the corporate board rooms, highlighting recent grassroots successes across Canada in turning back health care privatization.
“Alberta has the highest capacity for hospital MRIs because of citizen pressure,” he told the audience.
“Health care is the third rail of Canadian politics – which is why they do it (privatize) by stealth,” he said.
The Council of Canadian’s Maude Barlow began the evening, thanking McBane and Mehra for their work in defending Medicare.
“If not for these two we would not have public health care,” she said.
Barlow said the health care cuts were taking place against a backdrop of the most right-wing and dangerous government (federal) we have ever seen in Canada.
Barlow also said the Harper government was achieving its aims by stealth.
“They (Conservatives) could never run on a platform of privatization or they would never get elected,” she said.
Barlow noted that every generation in Canada has had to fight for public health care since the introduction of Medicare.
During the question and answer period, Hugh Armstrong, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Social Work, said McBane should add an 11th reason to oppose privatization – the erosion of democracy.
Armstrong said private deals are shrouded in secrecy and lead to less public control of health services, noting the present public-private partnership deals the Wynne government is using to build new hospitals.
Speakers were clear why the government wanted to transfer services into the community – to save money on the wages of health professionals who were less likely to be unionized in these smaller community settings.
When the issue of cuts to refugee health was raised, McBane noted how impressed he was by doctors who were fighting back, interrupting press conferences at hospitals by Federal Ministers.
“The response by front line physicians is ‘no ideologue is doing to tell me to cut off services to any patient,’” he said.
McBane described the attack on refugee health care as the kind of divisive politics practiced by the Harper government.
While the evidence is on the side of public health care, McBane says it is up to all of us to fight back.
“It’s not so much the strength of the argument as the strength behind the argument,” he said.
The evening began outside in the foyer with the raging grannies serenading the group with their own pro-Medicare lyrics to popular songs.
Chair for the evening was OPSEU’s Marlene Rivier, a long-time activist with the Ottawa Health Coalition. Rivier listed the long list of cuts happening at The Ottawa Hospital and noted a review of outpatient services is due in June, which will likely precipitate further cuts to patient care.
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