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Private healthcare only exacerbates the problem

May 8th,2024 | Valley Voices

Last week…another worker in our region’s health and social services network [departed]: a nurse exhausted and discouraged by the system’s persistent dysfunction. She chose to pursue her career in the private sector, having lost hope in the possibility of significant change within the public sector. This phenomenon, far from being isolated, is repeated with alarming regularity. Here at CISSS de l’Outaouais alone, there have been over 200 departures since the start of 2024. With each departure, our healthcare system crumbles a little more.

Over the past 40 years, successive governments in Quebec have imposed numerous reforms, ostensibly to improve our health and social services system. However, these “reforms” seem to have hidden agendas: the reduction of public sector resources and the centralization and gradual privatization of our care. It’s high time we denounced this strategy and recognized the threat it represents.

We are writing not only as trade unionists but primarily as deeply concerned citizens. We fear for our network workers, who strive day after day to provide quality care despite an alarming shortage of resources. Above all, we are frightened by our government’s obstinacy in seeing the private sector as a miracle solution. Minister Christian Dubé, convinced of this approach, recently appointed Geneviève Biron, a champion of the commercialization of private care, to head the new Santé Québec agency. This should alarm us all: this appointment is not a signal of innovation but a further step towards privatization.

Minister Dubé claims to reject any dogmatic vision of the role of the private sector in healthcare. However, if the private sector were the solution, it would have been known long ago. Almost all frontline services are already privately managed and publicly funded. Doctors, mostly self-employed, can incorporate, and Family Medicine Groups are almost exclusively private entities. This reality extends to nursing homes, seniors’ residences, psychologists’ offices and employment agencies. And yet, access to care is still lacking.

The increasing number of doctors leaving the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec to open entirely private clinics is exacerbating this problem. Each new private clinic actively recruits from the public sector, exacerbating the staff shortage. Minister Dubé may claim that the private sector complements the public sector, but the reality is quite different: no qualified professional is sitting idle, waiting for a job offer. The private sector only increases the pressure on an already strained network, not reducing waiting lists but offering the more fortunate faster access to care, regardless of the urgency of their situation.

CAQ, with the Minister of Health and Social Services and now the CEO of Santé Québec, is applying a strategy that only increases inequalities and promotes a two-tier healthcare system. The status quo is certainly not a viable option, but for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux in the Outaouais, the only valid solution is to guarantee a truly public network. It’s time to take a stand for a truly public system that values equity and solidarity, not profitability. Health is not a commodity; it’s an inalienable right.

It’s a question of social justice, equity and human dignity.

This op-ed was written by Alfonso Ibarra Ramirez, president of CCSNO-CSN; Alain Smolynecky, president of Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs de la santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais – CSN; and Jonathan Clément, regional vice-president, Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux. It has been edited for length, style and clarity.

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