Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Defend Medicare for all Canadians

    TORONTO, Aug. 1 /CNW/ - In light of the Canadian Medical Association's
recently released policy statement calling for a two-tier health care system
in Canada, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) urges you to
restate, in no uncertain terms, that physicians will not be allowed to
practice simultaneously in both private and public health-care systems.
    Physicians already have the choice to work privately by opting out of the
Canada Health Act; it is telling that the great majority have chosen not to do
    We know from a wealth of evidence that allowing physicians to practice in
both public and private systems decreases access to health care, costs
taxpayers more, and results in lower quality of care, including higher rates
of complications and deaths. A parallel private system siphons health-care
professionals and drains resources out of the public system. As a result,
countries with parallel private hospitals have larger and longer wait lists in
their public hospitals than do countries with a single-payer system. A
parallel private system allows for-profit clinics, and the physicians who work
in them, to benefit from people's vulnerabilities in times of illness. These
clinics "cherry pick" patients who are healthier, younger or have conditions
that are cheaper to treat, while leaving more complicated cases to a public
system with fewer health-care professionals. Furthermore, whenever a patient
in a for-profit clinic suffers complications, they are sent to the public
    Prime Minister, we must stay the course by increasing funding for health
human resources, allowing each of our professionals to practice to full scope,
developing a solid system of primary and community care, fully utilizing our
diagnostic equipment (as in most European countries), increasing our
efficiency by dedicating human resources to specialized procedures, moving
patients in and out of our hospitals in a timely fashion, without delaying or
cancelling their procedures, and providing them with adequate community
supports. This is the nursing prescription for strengthening Medicare,
including our ability to perform more surgical procedures and reduce wait
    The Consumers' Association in Alberta conducted a study 10 years ago that
compared costs and access to cataract surgeries in three cities: Calgary
(where all procedures were contracted out to a for-profit clinic), Edmonton
(where most procedures were delivered on a non-profit basis), and Lethbridge
(where all cataracts were done in non-profit facilities). The cost of the
procedures was lowest in Lethbridge, which also boasted the shortest wait
times. The lesson is clear: non-profit clinics operate at the lowest cost and
offer the best access.
    In Alberta, public clinics have reduced hip and knee replacement wait
times from the average of 47 weeks to 4.7 weeks. The recipe for success in
Alberta was based on several factors: establishing specialized teams of
surgeons, nurses, and physical therapists who worked together to move patients
quickly through the system; performing surgeries according to well-managed
waiting lists based on medical priorities; and providing nursing and other
resources for patient education (i.e. to assist people with managing their
diabetes or losing weight before surgery). Indeed, Alberta's own former Health
Minister Iris Evans described this as a public system triumph.
    Prime Minister Harper, let us be very clear: nurses want change. We want
to move from the rhetoric that has characterized the private/public debate to
finding real solutions to strengthen Medicare - a system that will keep
Canadians healthier and that will be there for them when they are ill, serving
them better and faster, regardless of the size of their wallets. This will
only be achieved within a strengthened public, not-for-profit system.
    Nurses are united in our intent to protect the public by strengthening
and expanding Medicare for all Canadians. We will uncover those who would
profit from the destruction of Medicare. The facts are clear: publicly funded
and not-for-profit delivery results in lower wait times, lower costs and
better health outcomes. Let us focus on the facts and together we will
strengthen Medicare for all.

For further information:

For further information: Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO,
Ph: (416) 599-1925/1-800-268-7199 ext. 209, Cell: (647) 406-5605

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