Alberta UCP leader would scrap medical superlab planned for Edmonton

File: Alberta UCP leader Jason Kenney. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says a United Conservative government would scrap a medical superlab and revisit a plan to put all laboratory services under government control.

“What the NDP is trying to do is to create effectively one monopoly provider for lab services. That means no competition to ensure efficient delivery,” Kenney said Monday.

“They are trying to shift workers from the private sector to the state sector because they have this deep ideological bias towards government monopoly delivery of services,” he said.

“We believe in practical, common-sense Alberta solutions, which may very well include bidding out portions of lab services, as most jurisdictions around the world do.”

Lab services, estimated to cost the government $768 million a year, are currently delivered under a patchwork of public and private testing agencies.

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READ MORE: Alberta clarifies $3B super-lab plan

The NDP government is putting all those services under the control of one agency, to be called Alberta Public Laboratories. It would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alberta Health Services.

By 2022, all lab testing would be funnelled through two major hubs — the Edmonton superlab and a facility at Calgary Cancer Centre, which is under construction. A board of directors and an executive team are already in place.

The government has said the integration would more than pay for itself, even as the number of tests go up, because it would reduce duplication and handle more complex tests currently outsourced to other jurisdictions.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is expected to soon call the spring election. Kenney said a UCP government would put the superagency on hold while consulting on the best way to deliver lab services.

The $590-million superlab in Edmonton would be out no matter what, he said, because it is nothing more than a bureaucratic “boondoggle” to reorganize lab tests that are already handled effectively by the private sector.

“Why is the NDP choosing to spend the equivalent of a new hospital on a building that will not actually touch patients or heal people?” he said.

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The majority of tests in the Edmonton region are handled by private provider DynaLife. Its contract with the province runs until 2022. After that, the NDP has planned to buy out the company for $50 million. Kenney said he would scrap that deal, too.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said Kenney’s plan is “short-sighted and wrongheaded,” especially given that the Health Quality Council of Alberta has urged in a recent report that the publicly funded superlab model is the best for patients.

She noted that site preparation has already begun on the Edmonton superlab, on University of Alberta land south of the main campus.

“For Mr. Kenney to think that he can just wave a wand and go back in time, I think it’s wrong, I think it would be problematic and I think it would be bad for the health care outcomes of people in Edmonton and in the north,” said Hoffman.

Unions with health-care workers also criticized Kenney’s plan.

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta said the current Edmonton lab used by DynaLife is “stretched to the breaking point.”

“Whether you choose private or for-profit [delivery], a new lab will have to be built and Albertans will have to pay for it. To suggest otherwise is deliberately misleading,” said Parker.
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The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said privatization lab schemes have failed in the past in Edmonton and Calgary, noting that Calgary tests are currently handled by the province through Calgary Laboratory Services.

“If this is part of the UCP’s so-called ‘Public Health Guarantee,’ Albertans should be wary of what may lie ahead,” said AUPE vice president Bonnie Gostola.