HEU steps up campaign to halt privatization of hospital lab services in Capital Health Region
Union to make crucial presentation against joint venture with MDS and unveil special research investigation at CHR board meeting tonight Activists from the Hospital Employees' Union say they'll call on the Capital Health Region board at its meeting tonight to halt discussions with lab testing multinational MDS Inc. around a "joint venture" that could result in the privatization of lab services at Victoria-area hospitals. The privatization threat emerged in August, when, without board approval, CHR CEO Tom Closson announced he'd reached a letter of understanding with MDS Inc., a Toronto-based lab testing multinational, to discuss "areas of potential collaboration" through a "joint venture." "There's no doubt in our minds these discussions, which Closson says will soon be finalized, are designed to open the door for the private sector to take over testing functions at our public hospitals," says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. "If such a move is allowed to take place, it will have very negative repercussions for CHR hospitals, health care workers and patients, and for our entire Medicare system," he said. The union will also release tonight a comprehensive research investigation into MDS activities in North America. The union report shows that cost savings promised in MDS "joint ventures" in other jurisdictions haven't materialized, although concerns about lab service quality have. The union says it's also found that these joint ventures operate in a veil of secrecy and are not subject to public scrutiny or accountability. HEU says Closson and MDS are trying to do an end run around recent efforts by health minister Penny Priddy to establish a process through which all stakeholders can be involved in discussions about much-needed lab reform in B.C. "It's an incredible sign of bad faith on the part of MDS and the CHR," says Allnutt. "And itís a real problem when a health region CEO and a private corporation think they can set provincial health care policy." The union has received support for its campaign from a number of Victoria-area NDP MLAs and the Victoria Labour Council. While MDS Inc. claims in its B.C. lobbying efforts that it supports our public health system, Allnutt says HEU research shows that in Alberta the company is working hard to undermine Medicare. "Through a number of venture capital funds it controls, MDS is one of the biggest backers of the controversial private hospital in Calgary that's poised to benefit from Ralph Klein's plans to introduce privately delivered care," he said. The CHR meeting takes place tonight, Wed. Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Woodward Room of Begbie Hall, 2101 Richmond Ave. in Victoria. The union's research paper on MDS can be downloaded later today from HEU's web site, www.heu.org.