June 17, 2014 4:52 pm

Debate flies over move to regulate private healthcare industry in N.S.

Community groups held a demonstration in front of the offices for the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – The debate over private and public healthcare is intensifying in Nova Scotia, especially in the wake of a decision to regulate the private healthcare industry.

The Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons recently made a move to regulate the industry, a decision that is being decried by community organizations.

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“Their acceptance of privatization and the [College’s] attempt to regulate it is harmful. It gives the stamp of approval on substandard care,” said James Hutt, the provincial coordinator of the Nova Scotia Citizens Healthcare Network.

“We know private healthcare provides inferior care at greater risk to patients while draining system resources from the public.”

Hutt said he does not think private healthcare can be regulated to be safe or to avoid abuse.

Adrienne Silnicki, a national healthcare campaigner for the Council of Canadians, said she is also concerned about the move.

“We’re worried that opens up the province to more private clinics. We really want to keep healthcare absolutely accessible to everyone,” she said.

Dr. Timothy Bood is a physician at Dartmouth General Hospital as well as with the Cobequid emergency department.

He said private healthcare is the way of the past, not of the future.

“If the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ purpose is to ensure the safety of the healthcare system in Nova Scotia, they should actually be opposing the implementation of private healthcare clinics,” he said, citing what he said are risks such as longer waiting times, higher costs and minimal safety for patients.

“It is very difficult to get private healthcare clinics to adhere to the principles of universal healthcare, that is access to healthcare based on need rather than ability to pay.”

But Dr. Gus Grant, the CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, said the regulatory board does not wade into policy. He said its main responsibility is regulation of the medical profession.

“That’s not for us to decide policy in these issues. It’s for us to regulate the medicine that’s being delivered to all Nova Scotians,” he said.

“The College has no position. The College’s job is to regulate medicine that’s being delivered. Private medicine is being delivered on the ground in Nova Scotia in a number of different settings right now. The College wishes to take steps to work with government to help ensure that whatever medicine is delivered privately is delivered safely and appropriately.”

The move towards regulation is being welcomed by the general manager of Scotia Surgery, a private clinic in Dartmouth.

Bob Cyr said he thinks standards in any medical facility are of the utmost importance.

“The reason for regulation, I believe, is to prevent any sort of underground clinic from ever coming into being,” he said.

Scotia Surgery started eight years ago, and Cyr said he rejects the idea that private clinics provide patients with substandard care.

“The connotation of a clinic like ours providing a service that is at the expense of the general public because we are extracting a profit that would otherwise be translated into better quality service is a fallacy.”

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Health Leo Glavine is also wading into the debate.

He told Global News that the College of Physicians and Surgeons reached out to him to draft legislation about the regulation.

“They would like the government to bring in regulation through legislation to enable them to do investigative work and monitoring of what goes on during private procedures and surgeries,” Glavine said.

He said work on legislation will begin in the fall and will involve looking at legislation drafted by other provinces that are also regulating private clinics.

Glavine stresses he is not an advocate of private healthcare but understands that it is already present in the province.

“They are here now. They are going to be here. We need to make sure that the whole area of patient care is safe guarded and the best practices are going on.”


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