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“don’t do it here,” warns former British health minister 

HAMILTON, ON  Far from the panacea for faster medical care touted by the government, private surgery clinics and private hospitals are a “dismal failure” in the United Kingdom (UK) and should not be emulated here in Ontario, said Frank Dobson a former British health minister at a Hamilton media conference today.

Dobson an outspoken advocate for public health care is here this week for a series of media conferences across the province sponsored by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). His focus, is the UK’s nearly two-decade long experiment with extensive privatization of their national health service including private surgery clinics, a reform now being contemplated by Ontario’s Liberal government.

The UK experience, said Dobson, should be used as a “warning of what can go wrong when you privatize parts of the health system, particularly surgeries and procedures that are best left to public hospitals equipped to handle emergencies when things go wrong. Ontario should learn from our mistakes and not privatize more surgeries.”

Private surgery clinics concentrate on low-risk patients and easy procedures to minimize costs. This leaves the more complex surgeries and procedures on higher risk patients that are more expensive to the public hospitals, said Dobson. A practice that is referred to as “cherry picking” in the UK.

Well documented in the UK media, private surgery contractors are closing clinics and walking away from contracts particularly in low-income areas. In some cases loopholes are allowing contracts to be flipped, from one private operator to another. This is the case in Camden, the area of London that Dobson represented for nearly 35 years as an MP. Although open for 100 years before it was privatized, the Camden Road Surgery closed just four years after it was taken over by the big American health care company and a subsequent contract flip to another private company. 4700 patients were left in the lurch without care. Private surgeries have also closed in Woking, Leicester and Nottingham affecting thousands more patients.

Overall, contracts were so badly drawn up that the private sector successfully claimed £26O million ($533 million Canadian) for operations they never carried out, Dobson said.

Ontario’s experience with already existing private clinics has not been good, said Kevin Cook an OCHU regional vice-president and hospital worker at St. Joseph’s in Hamilton. On September 20, 2007, Krista Stryland died after undergoing liposuction at a private clinic. Stryland bled excessively following the surgery. The doctors’ regulatory college found that one of the doctors involved delayed calling 911, and when paramedics arrived, they found Stryland lying in a pool of blood with no vital signs.

Moreover, problems kept coming, Cook said. In the fall of 2011, 6,800 patients at a private endoscopy clinic were told that faulty infection control procedures could have exposed them to HIV or hepatitis.

Ontario regulations were changed in 2013 to facilitate the expansion of private surgery and procedure clinics. The current health minister Eric Hoskins has said little publically about the expansion. However following media stories in the fall of 2014 about patients who developed meningitis, epidural abscesses and bacteria in the blood at a pain clinic and a hepatitis C outbreak at three Toronto colonoscopy clinics, he promised oversight and reporting improvements under the College of Physicians and Surgeons. 

“Very little has changed. Reports are threadbare. We have over eight years of negative experiences with the government’s attempts to downgrade public hospitals and move work to private clinics. Time has run out. The government should stop this failed experiment. We’re asking the minister to step in and stop the transfer of hospital surgeries, procedures, and diagnostic tests to private clinics. Instead work with us to build a better, stronger public hospital system,” said Cook.

For more information please contact:

Stella Yeadon
CUPE Communications Representative