Friday, June 29, 2007

The wrong doctor at the wrong time

Dr Brian Day begins his tenure as the head of the Canadian Medical Association in August. He is expected to spend his term promoting private care over the public system.

An orthopedic surgeon, Day is the founder of a private clinic whose patients are mainly people with third-party insurance, such as workers' compensation.

Day, who will take over leadership of the CMA in August, is a staunch advocate of the role of privately paid health care in the Canadian system.

This means that at a critical juncture for the continued survival of Canada's public healthcare system, doctors have chosen to represent them someone unlikely to try to improve the public system, and who could, in fact, undermine it.

If there were reason to believe our public health-care system would be improved by the addition of privately funded services or clinics, or even a parallel, private system, Day's leadership could be welcomed.

But in reality, such proof is thin on the ground. The examples pro-private sector advocates trot out with such conviction don't prove private health care is an improvement over the public version. On the contrary, well run, publicly funded health-care systems are superior in every important regard. They deliver high-standard care at lower cost and with greater equity and efficiency.

Let's look at one of the examples that purports to show private care can be a useful adjunct: Stockholm county in Sweden transferred St. Goran's Hospital from the public sector to the private in 2001. What at first looked like a more efficient operation was found in fairly short order to be the result of hospital administrators preferring to treat patients with minor problems over serious illnesses.

According to research from the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta (printed in 2005 in the Globe and Mail), Daniel Cohn of Simon Fraser University found that at St. Goran's, patients most in need of fast medical attention were least likely to get it.

Instead of showing leadership in the fight to protect a system with superior outcomes the doctors of the CMA, narrowly, chose a representative who will promote superior cash flow. Be prepared for a lot of propaganda about the greater efficiency and savings of private solutions. Canadians need to be constantly reminded of the facts as opposed to the disingenuous neo-liberal drumbeat.

Public health care costs less and works better. Any private experiments are a step back and have dangerous potential consequences under NAFTA and other trade agreements that protect our public system only so far and so long as it stays public. There are no 'experiments'. Just permanent, irreversible changes.

Dr Day will be promoting an agenda that is in opposition to the pubic well being of Canadians. We can only hope the CMA will return to its traditional role of protecting the health of Canadians the next time they pick a leader.

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