Increasing private surgeries won’t solve BC’s waitlist problems: study

April 25, 2016

(Vancouver) A new study lays out detailed recommendations for tackling the province’s growing surgical wait times – now among the longest in Canada – and warns against plans to increase contracting-out to private clinics.

The study, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, assesses the provincial government’s recent policy paper, Future Directions for Surgical Services in British Columbia. Lead author Andrew Longhurst says that while the paper includes some positive recommendations for improving surgical care within the public system, it also proposes major steps towards health care privatization.

“What’s most troubling,” says Longhurst, “is the recommendation to contract out in-patient surgeries to private clinics.” Currently, private clinics can only perform day surgeries. The government’s policy paper recommends increasing the allowable stay in private clinics to three days, which would enable the majority of all surgeries to be contracted out.

“The international evidence shows that increased private delivery of health care is more expensive and less safe, and will destabilize the public health care system,” says Longhurst.

“There are some very fixable problems in the public health care system that are contributing to longer waits,” Longhurst says. “Almost 20 per cent of operating rooms in BC aren’t used to full capacity. We don’t have adequate home and community care for seniors, so they end up in hospital, which contributes to bed shortages and longer waits for surgery. We have pilot projects that reduce wait times but they aren’t being scaled up province-wide.”

One of these pilots is the Richmond Hip and Knee Reconstruction Project, which reduced wait times from 20 months to five months by increasing operating room efficiency. That project has been terminated. Longhurst also points to international examples like Scotland’s overhaul of surgical services that led to a three-month maximum wait time for 90 per cent of all trauma and orthopedic surgeries.

He cautions that such improvements to public health care would be undermined by a major shift to private delivery. “The Minister of Health needs to state clearly whether or not the government will proceed with plans to allow three-day stays,” says Longhurst. “This will open the door to a US-style private hospital sector and drastically change our health care system. British Columbians have a right to know if this is on the table.”

Reducing Surgical Wait Times in BC: The Case for Public Innovation and Provincial Leadership is co-authored by Andrew Longhurst, Marcy Cohen and Dr Margaret McGregor.