Plans to gut health boards will have dire consequences—HEU

News release

Liberals will eliminate local control, impose `super czars’ to make crucial decisions around cutbacks, privatization

The Hospital Employees’ Union warned today that Victoria’s secretive plans to gut regional health boards and community health councils and replace them with as few as six mega regions run by `super czars’ will put an end to local control and input into health care decision-making.

Union spokesperson Chris Allnutt says Victoria is close to finalizing a decision to go ahead with the scheme, and a formal announcement is expected any day. But rather than improving the delivery of health care services, Allnutt charges the local health authorities are being eliminated to remove any hurdles to government plans to cut or privatize health care services and close hospitals over the coming months as the health system wrestles with the Liberal’s three-year funding freeze.

“These boards and councils that will be vaporized have diverse local representation, ranging from community advocates, business people, municipal politicians, doctors and health care providers. They reflect a desire by British Columbians to have more grass roots control over how health care decisions that affect them are made,” he says.

“The Campbell government has hatched this plan behind closed doors, without any form of open, public debate or consultation whatsoever. It’s a move that tramples on fundamental principles of democracy.”

Allnutt says sources have told his union that government intends to replace all the boards and councils who are accountable to their communities with a handful of all powerful, unaccountable super czars selected by the Premier. They will have carte blanche to implement the huge health service cuts that will result from the funding freeze.

HEU conservatively estimates that health care facilities will be forced to cut a cumulative $2 billion in services in the next 30 months.

“The prospect of having handpicked Campbell appointees making decisions behind closed doors about cutting services, privatization, layoffs and hospital closures is pretty frightening,” Allnutt says.

For example, says Allnutt, the decision about a privately owned, privately financed and partly privately operated hospital in Abbotsford won’t be made by the local health region or residents of the Fraser Valley. “It will be made by the super czar responsible for the new mega region, only part of which will be the Fraser Valley,” he says.

In contrast he notes that the existing structure—designed to provide greater community control and better coordination of health service delivery—was based on the recommendations of a Royal Commission in which British Columbians participated in droves, and three years of extensive community consultations.

Allnutt says that rather than dismantle the existing structure, government should instead be focused on how to make it better. He says HEU has a range of suggestions to offer. However, he says his union was rebuffed on four attempts to meet with health planning minister Sindi Hawkins on the issue.

And HEU’s spokesperson joined other labour and community leaders in urging the Liberals to rethink their fiscal strategy. “The elimination of community control over health care and the massive cuts, closures and layoffs that lie ahead are all linked to the government’s failed fiscal strategy and U.S. aggression on the softwood lumber issue,” Allnutt says.

“It’s imperative that saner heads prevail in Victoria, or a downturn in the economy will be turned into a full blown economic disaster for our province.”