HEU puts the breaks on MDS Victoria lab deal, health minister will be pressed to bring it to a halt

HEU's efforts to stop the lab privatization bid of Capital Health Region CEO Tom Closson in Victoria have succeeded in slowing the boss' plans to privatize public lab services in the region, but the union will continue to press health minister Penny Priddy to put a stop to it entirely. "We've definitely forced Closson to back off a number of elements of a joint venture with multinational MDS Inc.," said HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. "But Closson and MDS clearly havenít given up," he said, pointing out that HEU remained deeply troubled by the package of nine recommendations announced Dec. 1 that Closson and MDS are trying to sneak through. "These represent major changes in lab service delivery and are a sign that MDS and Closson are trying to destabilize Priddyís efforts to discuss lab restructuring at a provincial level," he said. That's why HEU is urging members and other health care workers to take part in a postcard campaign to lobby health minister Priddy to give clear and concise direction to Closson and MDS to halt their joint venture discussions. Postcards will be available from local leaders at all Capital Health Region facilities by Dec. 15. Meanwhile, later in the evening of Dec. 1, Royal Jubilee local activist Arleta Keppler made a wide-ranging presentation on lab issues to the CHR board meeting. Keppler outlined a number of union concerns about the joint venture discussions. These ranged from job cuts, the loss of lab revenue for CHR hospitals, implications under NAFTA and other global trade agreements, and the fact that the public-private partnership lab arrangement that Closson and MDS are pushing for undermines fundamental principles of public Medicare. The union also presented the board with a comprehensive HEU research study of MDS which found similar MDS joint ventures in Ontario and Alberta hadnít achieved promised costs savings, but had generated concerns about quality issues. More importantly, the investigation found these joint venture labs operated behind a veil of secrecy that prevented public scrutiny and accountability. And, shockingly, the union found that MDS is closely linked to Ralph Kleinís Tories, and has pumped more than $3 million into the controversial Calgary private hospital thatís now poised to cash in on Kleinís plans to privatize surgical services. "What makes the Victoria situation so appalling," says Allnutt, "is that Closson has teamed up with a company thatís set to profit by undermining Medicare in Alberta." At the earlier Dec. 1 labour-management meeting, CHR administrators presented nine recommendations for further collaboration with MDS. They acknowledged they wanted to go further but were thwarted by the collective agreement and the current "political environment" which they identified as barriers to their broader objectives. The recommendations for the first phase, which will lay the groundwork for future collaboration, include lab information systems and patient information (MDS peddles its own LIS system and has a health care market research company that sells patient information), research and development (MDS has a clinical drug trial subsidiary that stands to benefit from this), joint purchasing of equipment and supplies (MDS owns a supply distribution company), courier and transportation, and standardizing protocols and reference intervals.