Keep politicians way from the health care system – Editorial

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GEORGE BROWN/Off the Record

The old proverb goes: “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The proverb has been amended for the new millennium: “If something seems too stupid to be true, it probably involves the provincial government.”

Alberta’s cookie monster, Stephen Duckett, just won’t go away.

Earlier this month we learned that the former head of the health superboard, now a teacher at the U of A, told a conference in Toronto his predecessor CEOs of the old regional health authorities “had designated ‘go-to guys’ for discreet waiting list adjustments on request from MLAs.”

While Duckett’s departure from Alberta Health Services last fall was less than cordial, and he would certainly have an axe to grind with the government, Albertans should be concerned Duckett made the allegations; and the government denies MLAs help friends cut ahead of the line and won’t initiate a formal investigation. Health officials dismiss their former CEO’s revelation as “vague allegations about what may or may not have occurred in the past.”

A leaked internal memo from last summer reveals the Stelmach government knows queue jumping happens but wasn’t interested in reviewing the matter. That memo was written more than a year after Duckett claims to have released his own memo forbidding MLAs from helping their family and friends from jumping to the front of the line for health care.

This makes me think of two things: If the government spent more time working with doctors to eliminate wait lines as they do bribing doctors to allow their friends to leapfrog the queue, there wouldn’t be any wait lines to cut to the front of; and second the only benefit my family and friends ever got by having me work at a newspaper is a free garage sale ad.

We’ve probably all heard stories about a politician, or big shot who was whisked through the ER ahead of crying babies. Back in Alberta’s halcyon days, King Ralph slipped in his tub and cracked three ribs. His recovery in hospital was longer than his subjects would have been granted with a similar injury. MPs and Senators used to have their own tax-funded private hospital in Ottawa, the National Defence Medical Centre. Ostensibly for the treatment of armed forces personnel, doctors were often brought to the NDMC to treat federal politicians — with no waiting lists and no delays.

Personally, I wouldn’t begrudge moving the prime minister or leader of the Official Opposition ahead of me in line in the emergency room. The mayor or the MLA would be a different story if we’re not talking life or death but only a broken leg. The thought of spending time in a ward full of politicians and bedpans is enough to send me limping to the back of the wait line.

Why can’t we keep politicians out of the health care system? Sure, there has to be some accountability for spending through our elected representatives but wouldn’t we have a better system and better care without political meddling? For the most part, MLAs stay out of the classroom and the education system works fine without their influence. MLAs don’t tell Crown prosecutors and RCMP who to charge and who to set free, do they?

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason has called in the cops to investigate whether charges should be laid. It’s likely the Mounties will encounter a veil of doctor-patient secrecy and nothing will come of it. The health minister believes the ongoing Health Quality Council review health care mismanagement will root out all ills but a full public inquiry would have subpoena powers to get to the bottom of the allegations.

We don’t have the world’s best health care system; we have one of the most expensive health care systems. Universal health care should mean that all Canadians, regardless of their societal clout have equal status in the longest wait line in the world.

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