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Seven out of every ten British Columbians reject claims by the province’s health authorities that they can maintain high quality services while contracting out thousands of existing staff, according to a Mustel Group poll commissioned by the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) earlier this month.

That’s up 10 percentage points since August - a period during which hundreds of housekeeping, food services, laundry and security staff have been replaced by private contractors in Lower Mainland hospitals.

In the October 1-9 telephone survey of 505 British Columbians, only 26 per cent of respondents agreed that health authorities could replace existing staff with private contractors and maintain quality - down from 32 per cent in August.

HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt says the numbers point to growing public skepticism about the B.C. Liberals’ privatization schemes.

“From toll highways to the privatization of health care, British Columbians are not on side with the government’s sell-off of public services and assets,” says Allnutt.

“And they’re not buying health authority claims that they can maintain quality while abandoning service delivery to corporations that are banking big profits on the backs of poorly paid, inexperienced workers.”

The HEU/Mustel Group poll also indicates that the Campbell Liberals continue to receive poor marks for their performance on health care issues. Forty-six per cent of those polled rated the government’s performance as “poor” - down marginally from 47 per cent in August but well within the margin of error of the poll.

A further 28 per cent gave Victoria a “fair” performance rating (26 per cent in August, 2003) while 24 per cent provided a rating of either “excellent,” “good” or “very good” (unchanged from August, 2003).

“The B.C. Liberals’ growing legacy of closed hospitals, longer surgery waits and privatization is translating into a crisis of confidence in this government’s ability to manage our health care system,” says Allnutt.

HEU has commissioned Mustel Group surveys on the issue of government health care performance annually from 1993 to 1999 as well as in January, 2001 and January, August and October, 2003.

The Campbell Liberals’ poor ratings from the three polls this year have exceeded all but one of the previous nine polls.

To see the actual results of the poll go to heu.org and click on the mail article.