Jumping the health queue
Well-connected elites must wait like everyone else
Calgary Herald June 8, 2011
Stephen Duckett says it happens, Gene Zwozdesky denies it, and that's why we need a public inquiry into health care in Alberta.
An open inquiry with legal rules of evidence and protection for witnesses is the only way to get to the bottom of the deepening well of accusations and denials about patients dying on waiting lists, intimidation of doctors by government officials and, now, allegations by Duckett that politicians, their friends and well-connected people got preferential access to healthcare services.
Queue jumping is illegal, according to the lobby group Friends of Medicare, which is calling on police and federal health authorities to investigate.
Duckett, the fired former head of Alberta Health Services, made the accusation at a recent speech in Toronto. Zwozdesky, the health minister, issued the expected denial, calling it an unsubstantiated "he-said-she-said" situation.
But it's not just Duckett alleging that well-connected VIPs got special treatment. Dr. Paul Parks, the current president of the Alberta Medical Association's emergency medicine section, said prompt attention for privileged individuals was a regular occurrence at the emergency department of University Hospital in Edmonton between 2005 and 2008. Although critically ill patients were attended to first, the VIPs "definitely got care before others," Parks said.
Parks said it was also common for senior physicians to come in to attend to those with connections. "It was incredible, but I'd have heads of departments coming to me on weekend evenings saying there was a special patient they were there to see."
The situation was so bad that Duckett issued a memo in June 2009 to AHS vicepresidents that any requests for preferential treatment be brought to his attention.
The memo said it was not uncommon for privileged individuals to get expedited care, including politicians, bureaucrats, philanthropists who had donated to AHS or its foundations, AHS board directors and executives, as well as those who are "prominent in local or provincial society or business."
If politicians, including an unnamed top-ranking Conservative, engaged in queue jumping, it is not acceptable and possibly illegal. Special treatment for politicians is especially rancid. It can only result in a disconnect between the real world and those making public policy. The best incentive to fixing a bad situation is for politicians to be a part of it.
Duckett says he discontinued the practice when he became head of the AHS, the so-called superboard that replaced regional health authorities.
Queue jumping undermines the accessibility provisions of the Canada Health Act. If it did occur, and if it is occurring still, these are serious allegations that are, to quote Friends of Medicare president David Eggen, "simply appalling."
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