Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that a Quebec man was denied his right to a timely hip replacement is the right medicine for our ailing politics. Recent debate at the provincial level has been superficial, while at the federal level it’s been downright dishonest.
Technically the court decision only applies in Quebec, but it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would rule in another case that a right extended to Quebeckers would be denied to British Columbians. And there will be another case, and another, if something doesn’t happen to relieve waiting lists for health care.
The recent B.C. election featured a lot of finger-pointing about a shortfall in long-term care beds. The government was demonized for decisions such as closing St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, an ancient facility whose non-profit society operators agreed with the decision.
Since the election, the media had drifted back to the squabble over hospital cleaning and food, after the B.C. Liberals set up health regions and gave them the authority to contract out non-medical support services. It’s easier to bicker about rubbery eggs than to face the legions of seniors on rubbery legs.
This court decision will force politicians to talk about the reality of modern health care. Forget laundry services. Our system is already contracting out diagnostic services and surgeries, and this can only increase.
Last year the Fraser Health region let a contract to an Abbotsford clinic to help clear up a backlog of MRI scans. This was done with the usual apologies about resorting to dirty for-profit medicine, just temporary, you understand, we’ll be back to sacred socialism as soon as we get the mess cleared up.
This kind of specialty contracting is now recognized as more than a temporary fix. A study came out last week confirming that health facilities that do the same procedure many times are less likely to make mistakes than those that do it rarely. That makes sense, and so does contracting out joint replacement surgeries.
Right now a public hospital can’t tell you how much it costs to do a knee replacement. The global-budget monopoly system doesn’t measure such things. It needs an extra bureaucracy just to measure its waiting lists. But a contractor has to find that cost, and control it while delivering good service.
Ujjal Dosanjh, now posing as a foe of the mythical “two-tiered” health care, was part of the B.C. NDP government in 1995 when the Cambie Surgery Centre opened, and B.C. started paying for preferential care for those injured on the job.
The big fear of private hospitals is that they will lure away skilled doctors and nurses, leaving the public system worse off. Cambie Surgery Centre proves this is another myth.
Today, Cambie Surgery Centre lists the services of 95 surgeons in a variety of specialties, some of whom teach at the UBC medical school. It doubled in size in 2003, and still describes itself as Canada’s only full-service private hospital, with six operating rooms, 11 recovery beds and seven rooms for overnight stays. Vancouver is hosting a North American conference on arthroscopic medicine this year, with the latest techniques beamed in by video from Cambie’s OR. This facility has helped make B.C. health care a leader.
The court punctured another myth, that allowing people to pay for private health insurance is bad. Health care is the last gasp for old-style class warfare, the defunct idea that depriving wealthy people will somehow help the rest of us.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. bureau reporter for Black Press newspapers. email@example.com