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BC government officials admit that a private health care facility is in the works for the Fraser Valley, after CUPE’s health services division in BC blew the whistle Oct. 19 on a secret scheme hatched by Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberals for a privately financed, privately owned, and partly privately operated hospital in the Vancouver suburb of Abbotsford.

It’s the most brazen attack yet by any provincial government to undermine Medicare,” says Chris Allnutt, spokesperson for CUPE’s 46,000-member Hospital Employees’ Union, about the plan to replace Abbotsford’s aging MSA General Hospital. “We’re deeply troubled by this development, and we’re going to work to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Noting that it would be a Canadian first, Allnutt says that the privatization scheme is based on a model first developed in England by the Thatcher government. The Fraser Valley Health Region would lease space over a 30-year period, which would guarantee a significant rate of return for the developer involved.

The preliminary blueprints for the new facility don’t provide any space for support services like dietary and laundry. “This is how government plans forced privatization of these kinds of services,” Allnutt charged. “It’s also likely that the developer who builds and owns the private hospital will be offered an iron-clad long-term franchise to provide these services.”

Meanwhile, speaking to the United Nurses of Alberta general meeting in late October, a British expert on so-called private finance initiatives warned that British Columbians should be “very worried” about Campbell’s plans.

Britain has been using private financing sources in health care for a number of years and the results have been disastrous,” says Professor Allyson Pollock, a University College London health policy specialist. She urged Canadians to fight to ensure such a private model doesn’t get a toehold in BC.

According to the British Medical Journal and other reputable British publications, similar hospital projects in Britain have been plagued by shoddy construction standards, and huge cost overruns that have siphoned funds away from patient care services. The BMJ also notes that costs for these private facilities are 18 to 64 per cent higher than conventional public hospitals.

The evidence from Britain is clear,” says Allnutt. “These kind of private schemes have failed to deliver cost savings and result in poorer quality care. But they have been a cash cow for developers.

Construction of the private hospital scheme is expected to begin in 15 months and be completed by early 2005.

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