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REGINA: The union representing over 12,000 health service providers in Saskatchewan says the health care cutbacks announced today by the provincial government will lead to privatization by stealth.

Stephen Foley, president of the CUPE Health Care Council, called the announcement by Health Minister John Nilson that the province would be closing 90 beds and chopping at least 325 health care jobs unacceptable.

This NDP government certainly didnt get elected on a platform of cutting health care and setting the stage for the privatization of long-term care, said Foley. The people of Saskatchewan want a publicly funded and delivered health care system, which was a central part of the NDPs election mandate.

Foley noted that 50 long-term care beds would be closed in the initial round of cuts, which doesnt make sense given the provinces aging population. He noted that the provinces Health Services Utilization and Research Commission estimated that the proportion of Saskatchewan seniors would increase to 15 percent of the total population by 2015.

We also have one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world, and nearly two-thirds of our long-term residents suffer from dementia much higher than other provinces, he said. So Saskatchewan needs more, not fewer, long-term care beds. The provincial government has overseen a rapid expansion in private long-term care over the last decade, Foley said. The number of publicly funded long-term care beds in Saskatchewan has dropped by 8.4 percent since 1996, while the number of private-for-profit beds has increased by 63 percent. The bed closures announced by Health Minister Nilson today will only intensify the privatization of long-term care, he said.

The Calvert government should expand not reduce public long-term care beds and home care in this province.

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For more information contact Stephen Foley at 861-7529