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September 30th, 2002
Message from Kingston Health Coalition Co-Chair Charlie Stock

Recently, the Ernie Eves government has pretended to turn over a new leaf. Perhaps a spring election is looming. The reality is that the government is stepping up the attack on the public health system. The provincial government has announced plans for two for-profit hospitals, one in Brampton - the new campus of the William Osler Hospital - and the other in Ottawa at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. The hospitals will be designated as "Public Private Partnerships" or P3 hospitals. This means that a private for-profit consortium will design, build, finance and own the hospitals. The public will lease the hospitals and all the non-clinical services. Experience in Britain and elsewhere indicates that these projects are disastrous for patients and staff. Because of the higher costs associated with private for-profit financing, construction and ownership, clinical services ends up being cut. P3 hospitals will cost far more than public hospitals, Britain has seen an average cut in staff of 25% and an average cut in beds of 30%. Private for-profit ownership puts control of the hospital in the hands of private consortia, diminishes public accountability and control, increases user fees and other costs for patients. This is a direct threat to the core of Medicare - hospitals should be public and non-profit.

The provincial government has also announced 25 for-profit MRI and CT clinics. Currently MRIs, key clinical diagnostic services, can only be performed in hospitals. These are services the government promised would not be privatized only six months ago. Health Minister Tony Clement has said that those with "medically unnecessary" scans will be able to pay out-of-pocket to get scans at these clinics. This is two tier healthcare. Not only does it mean that those with money can jump the queue. It also means that those with the least need can end up first in line by virtue of the size of their pocketbook. This is both a terrible way to govern waiting lists and a direct attack on the fundamental principles of Medicare. These clinics will be under the control of corporations and their shareholders - rather than in public non-profit control. For-profit clinics will draw scarce personnel out of the public system threatening its future and driving up costs. This too is a direct threat to the core of Medicare - clinical services should be public and non-profit. Tony Clement has said that this is just the beginning. He told the media that day surgery may be privatized next.

Medicare was not intended to be a public insurance system that covers a large Americanized for-profit health industry. It is not sustainable that way. National standards, assurance that funding goes to patient care not profits, coverage for long term and home care, and federal attention to improving working conditions to deal with human resource shortages are all necessary components of revitalized and strengthened Medicare. The Federal government must take action. The Romanow Commission will be recommending reforms to the health care system this November. If provincial governments continue to expand for-profit health care, the work of the Commission will be completely undermined. Alberta and Ontario are forcefully promoting these private ‘solutions’ to the health care crisis.. A strong citizens’ movement combined with a renewed commitment from the federal government is what is needed to ensure that Medicare is preserved and enhanced.

We oppose for-profit healthcare because it costs more and is inefficient. We are also opposed because we believe, as do most Canadians, that health care is a human right. It is a public service not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit. We are proud of our public health system and of its values: compassion, humanity and solidarity. And we want those values to be strengthened, not destroyed. Private clinics are being touted as the answer as self-proclaimed cash-strapped governments claim to be unable to provide these medical services publicly. Profit is not the answer to what ails our health care system.

Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians is in Kingston on October 7th , to talk about healthcare. She and other speakers will look at how we can both keep and strengthen our most cherished social program. They will also explain how a strong public healthcare system provides a better service than for-profit systems. The public meeting will take place at Memorial Hall, City Hall at 7PM. The other members of the panel will be Dr. Gordon Guyatt ,co-author of the McMaster study on patient mortality rates at profit based hospitals in the USA, Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and Natalie Mehra the provincial co-ordinator of the Ontario Health Coalition. If you are as concerned as we are about the future of Healthcare please plan to attend this free event.

Charlie Stock


Kingston Health Coalition