COMMENTARY: Privatization of health care not a solution to N.L.’s crisis
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We can conclude two things from the recent ambulance worker crisis caused by the Liberal government. First, the government lacks the ability to address the current workforce crisis that is crippling our public health system. Second, privatizing our public healthcare system is not a solution.
Profit drives a privatized system. Consider the situation facing Trepassey residents. The ambulance operator has been told it will be withdrawing the service from the community in six months, citing a lack of calls and profitability. Imagine the fear this decision will bring to people living in the area.
Ontario’s plan to expand the private delivery of public health care by funding clinics to perform more selective surgeries, scans and other procedures is being sold as an attempt to ease pressure on the public hospital system. Premier Ford says it’s about getting people the healthcare they need.
In fact, it is an admission of not having addressed the conditions in the public system. Knowing how desperate our government is to solve the health crisis and their apparent inability to address the underlying causes, the possibility that they will implement a similarly desperate solution is real. Decades of chronic underfunding and budget-based decisions have led to the current crisis we are now facing.
Let’s not fool ourselves. A privatized approach will further pull staff out of the public system, exacerbating the health care crisis and leaving patients vulnerable to paying out of pocket. This has been clearly articulated on several occasions by unions and public sector workers. They will leave the public system because they will be drawn to the better pay and healthier work-life balance offered by private agencies. Instead of reducing the strain on those remaining in the public system, it has increased their workload and stress. They might be tempted to return to the public system, but they just don’t trust the government to address the issues that prompted them to leave the system in the first place.
Which brings me back to the government’s mishandling of the ambulance strike. It was a completely avoidable crisis created by the government itself. If the provincial government had actually entered into dialogue with the union, listened to workers’ concerns and introduced this legislation months ago, as the paramedics wanted, they could have achieved a basic workers’ agreement. The workers could have had a contract. The strike and the need for an urgent debate could have been averted.
Fixing our healthcare system begins with government showing respect for healthcare workers and recognizing that their conditions of work are our conditions of care
Instead, the government opted for a “hands-off” approach, hoping both sides would pull through and reach an agreement. In other words, the government played. They gambled with the livelihoods of first responders and with the lives of the people and communities who depended on them.
An NDP government would have consulted meaningfully with the union, the communities and the employer. We would have had the legislation in place long before labor measures. We would have had a thorough debate on such an important piece of legislation.
Fixing our healthcare system begins with government showing respect for healthcare workers and recognizing that their conditions of work are our conditions of care. It means walking the talk. Make a firm commitment to a well-governed, publicly funded and managed healthcare system. Do what it takes to get nurses/health workers back into the system. Commit to addressing the issues that drove them out of the public system in the first place. Reestablish incentives, benefits, and resources that were withdrawn in previous rounds of negotiations.
Only then will we begin to undo the damage caused by decades of budget cuts and restore confidence in our publicly funded and delivered health care system.
Jim Dinn is MHA for St. John’s Center and interim director of the NDP for Newfoundland and Labrador.