Warning message

Please note that this page is from our archives. There may be more up-to-date content about this topic on our website. Use our search engine to find out.


BC newspapers reported Wednesday that the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority wants to contract out thousands of surgeries to private clinics.

The Authority has invited Expressions of Interest from for-profit corporations for the delivery of up to 200 surgical services, including mastectomies, tonsillectomies, pacemaker insertions and toe amputations.

The initial proposal is to cover Richmond, with about one half of the surgeries that are performed in that community (more than 3,000 of 6,000 performed each year) to be offered by private clinics or private suppliers leasing ‘unused’ space in public hospitals.

The plan is to then extend this approach to all the VCHA (more than 1 million people) and to other BC health authorities.

The invitation for Expressions of Interest states that these contracted services must comply with the provisions of the Canada Health Act.

The government’s stated goals are to cut waiting lists, increase choice, promote innovation, get good value and if possible, save money.

At the same time the province is increasing the budgets of the health authorities, passing along the hike in federal transfers – into the pockets of the privateers.

CUPE’s concerns

This could go far beyond anything we’ve seen in Alberta or Ontario, and risks blowing public health care out of the water.

We know – and Romanow’s extensive research has confirmed – there is no evidence that for-profit care will reduce waits, improve health or reduce costs.

On the contrary, we know that patients are more likely to die or grow more ill when they are cared for at for-profit hospitals and clinics.

We know administrative costs skyrocket and instances of fraud increase dramatically.

We know, despite the assurances, patients are likely to be pestered for additional payments – and the most vulnerable among them will pay.

We know the precedent set in BC will be copied in other provinces and that under NAFTA, we will face increased pressure from US health corporations demanding the right to access the ‘Canadian market’ and public health dollars.

We know the province is taking this reckless action because it believes the federal government will do nothing to stop it, despite the clear evidence that for-profit care is in contravention of the five principles of the Canada Health Act: universality, portability, accessibility, comprehensiveness and public administration.

We know when health care becomes a for-profit commodity, the sixth principle that we have been promoting – accountability – goes out the window as shareholders’ concerns trump patients’ interests.

And we know Canadians do not want a penny of federal health care dollars to go into private, for-profit health care.

Canada Health Act compliance

The BC government asserts that privatized surgeries will comply with the Canada Health Act. It’s almost as if they are saying: “we say they must comply, therefore they will comply.” But the regulations speak only to the two conditions of the CHA – that there will be no user fees or extra-billing for medically necessary procedures.

We know there are lots of ways of inducing ill patients to pay for “non-medically necessary” procedures that will serve as a barrier to some while assuring others priority treatment.

But more importantly, we see compliance with the CHA as extending beyond the two conditions to include the five principles – and we are very clear that for-profit care violates these principles.

Key messages

We are demanding the federal minister take immediate action to stop this threat and impose a moratorium on any further privatization in health care.

Canadians are clear we don’t want to go down that road and Romanow was clear there was no reason to.

The federal minister has an obligation to act. She’s been shirking her duty – so much so that we are taking her to court to force her to fulfill her responsibilities under the Canada Health Act.

The Campbell government has broken faith with its electorate. It promised no privatization and it is madly privatizing. It said, we’re only going to contract out the laundry, housekeeping and food services and now it’s privatizing surgery.

We were right to denounce P3 hospitals and contracting out of food services because it inevitably leads to for-profit patient care. We’ve seen it in Britain, we now see it in BC.

It’s got to be stopped.

Additional notes

There are currently a dozen or so private clinics, ranging from cosmetic surgery clinics to the Cambie clinic, operating in the Lower Mainland. Complaints have been filed about some of their practices but to date, no action has been taken under the Canada Health Act.

CUPE has filed an application in Federal Court to force the federal minister of health to enforce the Act and document the impact of privatization on the ability of Canadians to get the care they need when and where they need it at no cost. Our legal challenge won’t be dealt with by the courts until the autumn.

It is too soon to know what impact this could have on our members’ jobs. In the long term, it could be devastating. We know there are thousands of BC hospital support workers (3,000 in the past ten days) that are about to lose their jobs, but our opposition to private health care is first and foremost about good health.