Campbell government secretly planning private hospital scheme in Abbotsford—HEU

News release

Move the `most brazen attack yet on Medicare,’ will be model for all future hospital construction in B.C.

The Hospital Employees’ Union today charged that without any public consultation, the Campbell government is about to finalize secret plans to build a new private hospital for the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford.

“It’s a move that is the most brazen attack yet by any provincial government to undermine Medicare,” says HEU spokesperson Chris Allnutt. “We’re deeply troubled by this development.”

Noting that it would be a Canadian first, Allnutt says his union has confirmed through a number of government sources that a new hospital to replace the aging and outdated MSA General Hospital will be privately financed, privately constructed, and privately owned.

“As we understand the private hospital scheme, the Fraser Valley Health Region will lease space over a 30-year period, which would guarantee a significant rate of return for the developer involved.”

The previous NDP government approved the hospital’s replacement as a conventional public build project. And Allnutt says that the most recent planning documents from February, 2001 posted on a government website confirm this. But Allnutt says his sources indicate the project went private in June, around the time the Liberals implemented huge tax cuts and reduced government revenue.

Construction of the private hospital scheme is expected to begin in 15 months and be completed by early 2005.

In addition, says Allnutt, the preliminary blueprints for the new facility don’t provide any space for support services like dietary. “This is how government plans forced privatization of these kinds of services, which will ensure that the hospital will never have the capacity to bring them back in-house,” he charged. “It’s also likely that the developer who builds and owns the private hospital will be offered an iron-clad long-term franchise to provide these services.”

Allnutt says union sources indicate that the Abbotsford private hospital scheme is based on the model developed in Britain by Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing government in the early 1990s. According to the British Medical Journal and other reputable British publications, similar hospital projects in Britain have been plagued by shoddy construction standards, and huge cost overruns which have siphoned funds away from patient care services. The BMJ also notes that costs for these private facilities are 18 to 64 per cent higher than conventional public hospitals.

“The evidence from Britain is clear,” says Allnutt. “These kinds of private schemes have failed to deliver cost savings and result in poorer quality care. But they have been a cash cow for developers.

“Fraser Valley residents have fought long and hard for a new facility to improve the quality of care they’re able to receive,” says Allnutt, “and our members have been part of that community campaign. But Gordon Campbell’s private scheme will result in second-class care for local citizens. They deserve better.”

Meanwhile, HEU activists will seek answers from a number of Liberal cabinet ministers and MLAs who are expected to attend a Fraser Valley Health Region event in Abbotsford at noon today. A host of dignitaries will be on hand to help demolish a number of old buildings to mark the advancement of the planning process for a new hospital. Talk of the private hospital scheme wasn’t going to be part of the program.

“The irony here is that while Liberal cabinet ministers are helping to raze these buildings, their government is working in secret to demolish some fundamental principles of Medicare,” Allnutt says.

HEU will be organizing a special membership meeting for next week to brief union members on these developments, which affect caregivers throughout the region in health care facilities from Abbotsford to Hope. And Allnutt says his union is committed to work with other groups to fight against the private hospital scheme and to lobby for a publicly built, financed and owned facility.