VICTORIA A reader in the Fraser Valley commented on my recent news report about specialized joint replacement surgery units in Richmond and Vancouver.
“As of today I was told by my surgeon that I was number 153 on his list for knee replacement, about one year, and with all the money supposedly being put in to help, he doesn’t see any changes soon,” the patient said. “As for me, I’m out of work and unable to drive until I get this knee replaced.”
Last June, medical staff at MSA General contacted the Abbotsford News to tell of seriously ill patients being treated in hallways for days at a time. That’s the sort of scene that has become all too familiar in B.C., especially in growing areas that are attracting retirees.
NDP MLAs report that Kelowna General Hospital now has a “hallway ward,” with eight beds and a board to keep track of their status. The staff named it after the Premier, said NDP finance critic Jenny Kwan, as the health care war again rumbled back to life in the B.C. legislature after last week’s throne speech.
The Gordon Campbell government clearly picked this fight with the speech, which included provocative announcements that the Canada Health Act has to be clarified, and that Campbell and Health Minister George Abbott will tour European countries looking at “mixed” health care models. It comes at a time when Vancouver Coastal Health is calling for bidders to provide more than 3,000 routine day surgeries a year.
Politics aside, all these health horror stories are the product of a supply-managed monopoly that has seen its demand side running away. More old people, living longer, more young people out of shape, and more expensive drugs and treatments becoming available every day.
Secrecy surrounded the preparation of this week’s provincial budget, but much of it is no secret. Health spending is up to 44 cents out of every dollar B.C. spends, and with extra federal funds and an aging baby boom it will soon consume half the provincial budget.
Even the critics have had to admit the B.C. Liberal government has been busy on the supply side. Given the gobs of money thrown at health care by the former federal government, they should be. As a new hospital is constructed in Abbotsford, announcements are steadily being made about “complex care” and assisted living facilities for seniors, while medical and nursing school spaces are being increased.
NDP leader Carole James calls for innovation within the public system, with nurse practitioners and specialized surgical wards. Both of those are underway, but nurse practitioners have to be trained in new schools, in addition to the extra nursing and medical school spaces that have been opened up.
Cariboo South MLA Charlie Wyse took up the argument about “clarifying” the Canada Health Act’s promises of universal, portable, accessible health care.
“The throne speech says the principles of the Canada Health Act are undefined,” Wyse told the legislature last week. “That is wrong. The principles are clear. Private for-profit medicine violates the Canada Health Act.”
Actually, it looks as if Wyse is wrong. “Private, for-profit medicine” goes on all the time in Canada, at every doctor’s office for instance. It’s private insurance for medically necessary procedures that the Canada Health Act forbids, and a Quebec court decision has turned even that sacred notion on its head.
James wants to know if the government’s European tour is going to look at things like doctors on salary and user fees for doctor visits. Abbott and Campbell haven’t said, but I for one hope they do. The boomer wave is only starting to hit the beach.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. bureau reporter for Black Press newspapers. email@example.com