Premier says health system is not a political football

By Ed Stelmach

On February 28, Alberta introduced the latest provincial budget – a budget that set aside billions of dollars for health care. Our Action Plan for Health makes Alberta the only province to provide the health care system with stable funding for the next five years – including a six per cent increase this year alone.

According to recent public opinion research, six in 10 Albertans believe that the health care system will be there when they need it. Albertans have great faith in the commitment and skill of dedicated professionals who deliver the health care services Albertans need 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

Albertans have also expressed concern about the management of our health care system. In fact, the same number of Albertans – six in10 – believe better management of the system, and not more money, is key to improving the system.
It is fair to have concerns about how the health care system is managed. It is, after all, your money, and your health on the line. It is also fair to come to the table with ideas on how to improve the system. In fact, that’s exactly what happened last November when Alberta Health Services and Emergency Department physicians met to develop new emergency room protocols to get people emergency care faster. Since then we’ve seen an overall 55 per cent decrease in the number of emergency inpatients. Physicians also said more continuing care beds are needed. We’re acting on that. Almost 1,000 continuing care beds have been opened so far this year. A total of 1,300 are expected to be open by the end of March.

What is not fair is using our health system as political football. In recent weeks the entire health system – and not just the government – has faced one spurious allegation after another: physicians accepting hush money, corporate fraud, or health service providers conducting their own internal witch hunts.

To top this off, this past Friday five opposition politicians -three of whom sit in the Legislative Assembly – crowded onto a stage to make a joint accusation of corruption and of some conspiracy that alleges the Medical Faculties of the University of Calgary and University of Alberta, Alberta’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Alberta Medical Association, 12 previous regional health authorities, Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta were somehow involved in a culture of intimidation.

They also demanded that 10 years of financial records be reviewed, even though the former health authorities were audited by the Auditor General of Alberta, and the AG has already said there is no evidence of any irregularity.
This news conference held by opposition parties was a preposterous piece of political theatre. When five Opposition politicians get together on a stage to tell you “this isn’t about politics,” you know it’s all about politics. It’s sure not for a team photo. In fact, one of the politicians on the stage hasn’t yet declared which team he’s going to play on. This represents simply the politics of fear.

So let’s focus back on the facts and less on the theatre. Last week our government announced that we want to ensure that Emergency Room wait times and Cancer Care wait times are reduced. To help us implement the right strategies to address these wait times we have asked the independent Health Quality Council of Alberta to conduct a review.

If Emergency care or cancer care has been compromised by delays or long waiting lists, I want the HQCA to tell all Albertans exactly what happened, why, and how to prevent it in the future. If any doctor wants to bring forward evidence that patients have been harmed or that physicians’ ability to do their jobs has been compromised, I want the HQCA to get to the bottom of that too. That’s my commitment to Albertans.

The HQCA has done a good job of holding the government and health administrators to account in the past, and we’re confident they will do so on this matter. And I’m dismayed that we have two physicians and MLAs questioning the integrity of the HQCA.

If the Opposition or anyone else has evidence of irregularity in the accounting of any public body in Alberta, they have a duty to bring it forward – not raise phony questions as a stunt for the cameras.

Let’s get back to reality. We have listened. We have taken action.

Serious concerns have been raised about Emergency services in our province. I respect those concerns and the doctors who have raised them. Over the past six months our doctors and other health care professionals have started to turn the situation around. Your government acknowledges there is more to do and we’ll keep on supporting our health care providers to make further improvements.

Remember, each of the politicians who jumped on the stage on Friday own each other’s remarks about conspiracy and corruption. I wonder how the respected institutions and their members referenced by that group on Friday feel about having their reputations impugned as they were.

Editor’s note: Opposing points of view from opposition parties are welcomed.

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