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The head of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), Dr. Brian Day, continues to either ignore or deny critical facts about the privatization of health care.

In his latest propaganda campaign, Day touts recent reforms to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as a contending model for Canada to follow. This despite stated warnings from his UK counterparts about how the so-called ‘English Experiment’ in health care reforms has proven disastrous.

No wonder Day has turned to Europe to make his case – he knows full well that Canadians soundly rebuff US-style privatized health care.

Day’s assertions are code for a kind of privatization that critics the world over and here at home have deemed woefully inappropriate for Canada’s health care system.

  1. The idea of putting patients first is well and good. But to do so is to ensure the most level and yes – quality – of playing fields. Day advocates ‘patient choice’ – an agenda that sounds noble on the surface, but actually puts patients on disparate playing fields. He claims to support single-tier health care, but any model of the sort would ultimately lead to two-tier health care. Canadians have repeatedly and resoundingly rejected the notion of two-tier health care, so why does Day keep playing that song?

    Real solutions to improve Canada’s public health care system must focus on accessible and quality health care for every person in need. Period.

  2. NHS reform concepts like internal markets, volume-based funding, and incentives deserve far more analysis than has been given them. Turning the British health care system into a marketplace unto its own by allocating public money based on volume and type of service has pitted hospitals against each other, created disparities between rural and urban facilities (not to mention specialty and general hospitals), and chaos for patients. Let’s be clear: any talk of ‘competition’ – even within a publicly-funded system – is code for privatization. The Scottish government went so far as to deem the market-based approach to health care “the Trojan horse allowing in privatization in its various forms.”

    Real solutions to improve Canada’s public health care system must foster collaboration between institutions, provide the widest range of quality services to the broadest spectrum of the population, and exclude the private sector from any service delivery.

  3. The private sector doesn’t hold exclusive rights to innovation. Day knows of advancements being made within the public system he seems eager to write off. We needn’t look to the private sector to save health care when so much ingenuity exists right in the public domain. Take the concern about wait times, for example: public innovations like the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project reduced joint replacement wait times from 19 months to 11 weeks while the Saskatchewan Surgical Care network has vastly improved the queue for surgeries. The public system needs government leadership to turn pilot project innovations into long-term, deep-rooted change. Even the Health Council of Canada, in its latest report, concluded “the public sector can deliver more accessible, more equitable, and higher-quality care” through public innovations.

    Real solutions to improve Canada’s public health care system must support health care providers in working in high-functioning, multi-disciplinary, forward-looking teams.

  4. Health care is not a commodity. Neither are patients. The volume-based payment scheme within the NHS reforms that Day so aggressively champions has furthered health inequalities between the rich and poor. And the more the private sector moves into health care delivery, the more patients and services become measured in terms of profitability.

    Real solutions to improve Canada’s public health care system must hold central the idea of health care as a public service and more importantly, as a public value. Time and again, Canadians have ranked our public health care system as one of this country’s most prized achievements. Let’s not slide backwards.

  5. Since moving on the very reforms Day would have us believe are inspiring, the UK’s NHS is simply not working. Even the UK National Health Service Consultants’ Association cautioned Day last year that the “health care turmoil in the UK has escalated with private sector involvement causing much of the chaos we predicted.”

    Why Dr. Day so fervently wants Canada to move its health care system in a direction that has proven a mistaken one for the UK is beyond comprehension.

CUPE put forward other real solutions for health care in its recent presentation to the federal Standing Committee on Health. We know what we’re talking about, and have homegrown facts to back it up. We will continue to decode the myths perpetrated by Dr. Day and other opponents of public health care.

Canada needs system reforms that protect – not fragment – health care, that encourage unity – not competition – between health care professionals, and that seek to fund health care in effective – not wasteful – ways.

If only Dr. Day desired the same.

Paul Moist, National President
Canadian Union of Public Employees

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CUPE is Canada’s largest union, representing 570,000 workers across Canada, nearly 200,000 of whom serve at the front-lines of health care in hospitals, nursing homes, home support agencies, and other settings.