Hot! Canadian health care is on the critical list

NationalPost.com – FullComment/Canada
November 22, 2010.   Roy Green

Carol Woolsey’s voice broke as she spoke to me of her son Shayne. Why hadn’t someone from Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra hospital called her or her husband and let them know of Shayne’s desperate final hours?

Shayne Hay had checked himself into the Royal Alexandra hospital emergency room around midnight informing staff he was suicidal. He was placed into a room and hourly throughout the night and until about noon Shayne would emerge from the room requesting a counsellor. None came.

Shayne requested writing materials which he received and used to write a note to his parents professing his love for them. Then using the strap from his backpack he hanged himself. In a hospital emergency ward.

What answers can the hospital or Alberta’s health care system possibly provide to Carol and Roy Woolsey’s questions? None will be satisfactory. Carol Woolsey told me privacy legislation made it impossible for the hospital to inform her of her son’s desperate situation. Privacy legislation? Carol and Roy Woolsey were Shayne’s parents for God’s sake!

How frankly dangerous can things become in a Canadian hospital emergency room? In the past few years five deaths in just Alberta a linked to lack of patient care, including a patient who reported chest pains failed to receive immediate attention and potentially life-saving drugs. Report to a publicly funded front line hospital emergency room in Canada and inform staff of severe chest pains and die because you’re not seen promptly and no one bothers to administer medication proven to save lives when cardiac emergencies present themselves?

Imagine the terror of the patient seeking ER assistance but dies in the same ER of an aortic rupture. Why? The condition went undiagnosed.

Was it Shayne Hay’s suicide which caused Dr. Raj Sherman, emergency room physician and parliamentary assistant to the Alberta Minister of Health and Wellness to issue a stinging email indictment of his Premier last Wednesday? Was it patient deaths like the two listed above? Was it Dr. Sherman repeatedly and frustratingly driving his own father to an ER?

Whatever motivated Raj Sherman to write “I will be meeting the premier today and my Progressive Conservative caucus colleagues tomorrow to discuss my future in government as my trust in him (the premier) and his cabinet is severely tarnished”, the impact was immediate. As his political caucus colleagues lept into damage control mode, Dr. Sherman’s contemporaries in emergency medicine across this nation no doubt thanked him.

Dr. Sherman emerged from the emergency meeting with his Premier and Minister of Health and Wellness apologizing to Ed Stelmach and professing confidence in his government. The doctor’s critiques are now directed at Alberta Health Services bureaucracy.

Shayne Hay isn’t the only hospital ER patient to die in Canada. In Quebec just days ago a 78 year old woman complaining of severe pain was left lying on a gurney for some six hours. When she attempted to stand, she collapsed and died.

When compared with other developed nations Canada’s emergency medical care appears wanting.

The just released 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey which compared public perception of national health care systems from 11 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States found Canadians had the most difficult time accessing care in the evenings, on weekends and holidays.

Not all the news from the survey concerning Canadian health care delivery is bleak, but the fact remains millions of Canadians remain without a family physician. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey also shows Canada had the highest number (44%) of citizens who indicated they had visited an emergency department at least once in the past two years. Ours is also the worst performing nation under the heading “had to wait 4 or more weeks after being advised to see a specialist”.

Some readers will deem it heresy, but It is time for a fundamental shift in health care delivery in Canada. The time has come for a full range of private health care. It might just be possible without denying anyone immediate access to that private health care. Read on.

Private health providers should be welcome to open clinics and hospitals at their own expense, after which patient access to such private facilities would be unrestricted.

Any Canadian citizen, landed immigrant and permanent resident who required the medical assistance of a private clinic or hospital would have the right to choose to be treated at such a facility. He or she would similarly be free to access a publicly funded hospital or clinic. The patient would present a provincial healthcare card as he or she does now.

Private clinics and public facilities would invoice the province at the identical rate per procedure conducted. Efficiencies of operation and patient satisfaction would determine profitability levels for private organizations and public.

The money would follow the patient. Public clinics and hospitals would now compete for that patient. The patient becomes the health care consumer with a clear choice.

Would private health care providers be willing to operate Canadian facilities based on such a formula? Given the amount of money pumped into health care, more than likely I was informed.

That Canadians already choose and in increasing numbers to attend private medical facilities where they exist and pay out of pocket for services such facilities offer speaks volumes.

National Post

Roy Green is host of the Roy Green Show, heard weekends on the Corus Radio newtork. He is  a three-time winner of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters national Gold Ribbon award, Canada’s most prestigious broadcast award and recipient of the 1998 Human Rights and Race Relations Centre of Canada Gold Medal.

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