Minister of Health Adrian Dix has hailed Thursday’s Supreme Court of Canada decision against a Vancouver surgical centre a “vindication” of the public health care system.
“It’s a great victory for public health care,” Dix told reporters at the provincial legislature Thursday (April 6) morning.
Canada’s highest court had hours earlier dismissed a request from the Cambie Surgery Centre to appeal a July 2022 decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
The centre had launched a case against the provincial Medicare Protection Act with the argument that it denies patients the right to timely care, citing S. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing security of person and right to life.
B.C. Supreme Court’s Justice John J. Steeves first ruled against the private, for-profit corporation in September 2020. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that decision on July 15, 2022, prompting the final, now unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Cambie Surgery Centre Chief Executive Officer Brian Day, a past-president of the Canadian Medical Association, has been a long-time advocate of private health care, pointing to various statistics that show Canada behind other developed countries in terms of waiting lists and access to doctors, nurses, deficiencies that threaten the lives of Canadians.
“Last year, more than 11,000 Canadians died waiting for surgeries, diagnostic scans and appointments with specialists, according to the think tank SecondStreet.org,” he wrote in the Globe and Mail in Nov. 2022. “The Globe and Mail found that, as of this summer, only one in five British Columbians referred to an oncologist received a first consultation within the recommended period of two weeks, despite the importance of timely treatment in cancer care.”
Day also pointed to a 2022 survey by One Persuades that showed that nearly 75 per cent of Canadians believe private insurance should be allowed to access care in the face of unacceptably long waiting lists
Dix said the focus now lies on delivering the best possible service.
“We have done that consistently and that is what we are going to continue to do.”
The public health care system continues to deliver despite the challenges of COVID-19, he said, pointing to the expansion of operating hours and the hiring of new staff.
“As of March 2, 2023, we have performed surgeries for over 99 per cent of patients whose procedures were postponed during the pandemic’s various waves,” Dix said. “We continue to make exceptional progress, performing more surgeries than ever before and B.C. now ranks first nationally for the percentage of patients meeting clinical benchmarks for cataract surgeries and second for both hip and knee replacements.”
He added the province will continue to expand operating room time and capacity, expand training opportunities and bring more private clinics under public control to ensure all people in B.C. receive the care they need when they need it most.
BC Liberal Kevin Falcon Thursday accused the government of “utter hypocrisy” when asked to comment on the ruling. While New Democrats are celebrating the decision against the centre, they are sending patients to private clinics to undergo surgery with taxpayers picking up the tap, he said.
“They are doing that right now,” he said, adding that the province would have an even bigger health crisis, if not for the private clinics.
A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office and the BC Health Coalition found that the province spent more than $393 million in public funds for private surgical and medical imaging clinics over the six-year period from 2015 to 2020 for contracted procedures. The New Democrats assumed power in 2017.
Dix previously described these figures as inaccurate but confirmed Thursday that some private clinics are working within the public health care system consistent with the Medicare Protection Act and the Canada Health Act.