Campbell Liberals creep closer to B.C.'s first private hospital

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Plan puts province on collision course with Martin government, says HEU

The provincial government moved one step closer to committing a generation of taxpayers to a risky and expensive private hospital experiment just as the B.C. premier prepares to meet his provincial and territorial counterparts for closed-door strategy sessions on the future of medicare.

The government agency managing the privatization of the new Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre quietly posted a bulletin on its website last week confirming that Access Health Abbotsford (AHA) - the only private consortium to submit a bid on the project - has been chosen as the preferred proponent.

If a deal with AHA is finalized this fall, taxpayers will be on the hook for more than 30 years for B.C.'s first privately financed, designed, maintained and operated hospital.

The move could put the Campbell government on a collision course with Prime Minister Paul Martin who made the fight against privatization central to his election promise to "fix medicare for a generation." Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said his goal was to stem the tide of privatization.

Hospital Employees' Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt says that if Martin and Dosanjh are serious about fighting health care privatization, B.C. should be their proving ground.

"This province is a case study in creeping privatization," says Allnutt. "The Campbell Liberals are privatizing critical hospital support services, seniors' care, publicly insured day surgeries and elements of the Medical Services Plan and Pharmacare.

"Under pressure from private clinic operators, our premier refused to proclaim a law that would have curtailed flagrant violations of the Canada Health Act in this province," adds Allnutt. "Now he's preparing to saddle British Columbians with the costs of a private hospital for a generation."

In February, HEU released a commissioned study on the Abbotsford hospital privatization project that showed cost estimates had skyrocketed over the last two years -up 94 per cent to $1.4 billion from $720 million over a 33-year contract. The study by forensic auditor Ron Parks concluded that the project failed to demonstrate value for money from the taxpayer's perspective and that there was little assurance that the public interest was being protected.

Contact: Mike Old, communications director, 604-828-6771 (cell)