Talking about private health care in Quebec is still relatively taboo — especially on the campaign trail — but a new Leger poll indicates Quebecers are seemingly more open than politicians to discussing the idea.
Seventy per cent of respondents said they welcomed more access to medical services offered by private companies — as long as they don’t have to pay out of pocket.
Moreover, 42 per cent of respondents said they agreed with the proposition that the Quebec government allow private companies to run public hospitals, compared with 44 per cent who were opposed. The remaining 14 per cent did not know or refused to answer.
The Aug. 24-27 poll, commissioned by the right-leaning Montreal Economic Institute, surveyed 1,034 adult Quebecers who are part of Leger’s online database.
Germain Belzile, senior researcher at the institute, said the results indicate politicians should start expanding their ideas on how to improve Quebec’s health-care system.
“People are ready to have the private sector play a bigger role,” he said in an interview.
Belzile notes the poll didn’t ask Quebecers, however, how they felt about more private health care if they had to take out the credit card to pay for it.
But, he said, there are private companies operating public health institutions all over Europe and citizens don’t pay out of pocket — something he believes could be replicated in Quebec.
Sylvain Dion, vice-president of the province’s federation of general practitioners, said Quebec should optimize its current public system before adding private services, but it can’t because of a lack of human resources.
Surgery rooms are empty and medical imaging equipment is standing idle because there aren’t enough skilled workers in the health network, he said.
“As long as we don’t offer longer hours for medical imaging, because we don’t have enough technicians, we can’t optimize what we invested in the system,” Dion said in an interview.
“When the operating rooms close at 3:15 p.m. because there aren’t enough support staff for the surgeon, we can’t improve services to the public.”
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Even the nurse in his family clinic south of Quebec City is on medical leave and his office couldn’t find anyone to replace her.
“Yes, the private system can complement the public system,” Dion said.
“But we first need to optimize our public system.”
Despite the recent reinvestment in the health network, the Liberals’ budgetary compressions between 2014 and 2016 led to cuts totalling almost $1 billion, according to IRIS, a left-leaning research institute.
The Liberals promise in their platform to guarantee a minimum 4.2 per cent increase in program spending “and (it) could be greater if the economic context allows it.”
Promises so far during the Quebec election campaign on health care currently echo Dion’s view of the system and nowhere do the words “private health care” appear in the platforms of the three main parties.
The Liberals are pledging to increase availability for home care, run a “massive advertising campaign” to attract more orderlies and hire an additional 2,000 nurses by 2025.
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He also says he will reverse a recent contract signed by the Liberals with medical specialists that he says gives them too much money.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) says it will freeze salaries for doctors, guarantee access to specialized nurses in community clinics until 9 p.m. every day of the week, and reduce workloads for nurses and other hospital staff.
McGill University Prof. Amelie Quesnel-Vallée, director of the McGill Observatory on Health and Social Services Reforms, warned that adding more private services would affect the public system.
“Health professionals have to come from somewhere,” she said in an email.
“If they’re practicing in the private sector, they’re not in the public. Even if the private didn’t offer higher salaries, the increased demand would drive salaries up, and the public system would have to bear extra costs.
“The private sector is often less regulated and that can create risks for patients, which the public system will have to assume because the private sector doesn’t usually deal with complications and emergencies.”