HEALTH Minister Adrian Dix in a statement Friday on the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling on the Cambie Surgery Centre case on Friday said: “We are extremely pleased with today’s decision from the B.C. Court of Appeal. I want to thank our legal teams, ministry staff, co-respondents, and the many witnesses and public health-care supporters who worked tirelessly on this case.
“This ruling emphasizes the importance of our strong public health-care system, which is a cornerstone of our Canadian identity. The purpose of the Medicare Protection Act is to have a publicly managed health-care system for British Columbia in which access to necessary medical care is based on need and not an individual’s ability to pay.
“A public health-care system, properly funded by the federal government, that upholds these principles benefits us all, and we will continue to vigorously defend our publicly funded and administered health-care system, which values equity and fairness over profit.
“Since forming government, we have worked hard to increase surgical access. This includes contracting with private clinics who follow the law and are not extra billing patients. The priority of the Medical Services Commission and the Ministry of Health is to uphold the fundamental principles of the Medicare Protection Act and the Canada Health Act, and to protect the benefits they safeguard for patients in this province.
“In May 2020, we made our surgical renewal commitment to catch up on surgeries that were postponed due to COVID-19 and significantly increase the number of surgeries performed above pre-pandemic levels. We committed an initial $250 million to achieve this goal.
“In Budget 2021, government committed a further $495 million over three years to support surgical and diagnostic strategies and in Budget 2022, we committed an additional $300 million over three years to address waitlists for surgeries and scans.
“We have made incredible progress.
“We have now completed 99.9% of the surgeries for patients who had their surgery postponed in the first wave of COVID-19, 97% from the second and third waves, and 90.2% from Waves 4 and 5 and extreme weather events. In 2021-22, a total of 337,560 scheduled and unscheduled surgeries were completed, 21,284 more than in Year 1 and the highest ever performed in a year in B.C.
“We were able to make this progress by working with health authorities throughout the province to increase operating room time and capacity, and we continue to work with them. All health authorities are recruiting staff, and the impacts of COVID-19 on frontline staff are being acknowledged and addressed to ensure surgical teams have the support they need to meet patient needs in a healthy and productive way.
“Health authorities have also completed the training of an additional 400 perioperative nurses and 100 medical device reprocessing technicians. We are focused on building on these achievements, continuing to overcome challenges and finding new ways to deliver the surgeries patients need.
“And this work has shown tangible results from independent reviewers.
“On May 10, the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report on how long Canadians waited for surgery, diagnostic imaging and other procedures during the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This report shows that B.C. had some of the lowest wait times for hip, knee and cataract surgeries. It also shows that we were one of the top-ranking provinces in delivering MRI and CT scans.
“Our work is not done. We will continue to take action to renew, rebuild and strengthen our public health-care system to address the impact of COVID-19, severe weather events and all the factors that affect the care people receive.”
THE BC Nurses’ Union said in a statement: “Today’s Appeal Court judgment is a victory for all patients. The ruling upholds important sections of the BC Medicare Protection Act that ensure patients do not need to pay out-of-pocket for medically necessary health care.
“The Court of Appeal agreed that the record and findings at trial, which included extensive expert evidence, amply support the conclusion that a duplicative private-pay system would result in longer wait times and, therefore, even poorer care for those who would have no option but the public system.
“BCNU is pleased the court has upheld our society’s foundational norms which prioritize fairness and favour a needs-based model for the provision of health care. In doing so, this approach preserves our publicly funded system as one delivering necessary services based on need and not ability to pay making it clear that the principles of medicare are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Throughout this litigation, BCNU and the patient intervenors we have supported provided important testimony to highlight the serious ethical shortcomings of for-profit care and dual practice that has allowed physicians working in the public and private system to take advantage of vulnerable patients.
“As health-care professionals, nurses have been gravely concerned about private medical clinics’ billing practices, and today’s judgment confirms that they are a direct threat to medicare and the health and well-being of Canadians. It is no longer ‘business as usual’ at for-profit surgical clinics in this province, and Dr. Day and others should no longer be allowed to flout our public health-care laws and take advantage of vulnerable patients by engaging in dual practice and extra-billing.
“Going forward, we continue to call on the government to prioritize investment in public facilities, limit the contracting out of surgeries whenever possible and invest in public solutions that will benefit all British Columbians.”
HOSPITAL Employees’ Union (HEU) secretary-business manager Meena Brisard said that Friday’s ruling is an important victory for the principles of equity and access to health care, but also a stark warning that the federal and provincial governments must commit to reducing barriers to timely access to surgeries and other procedures.
“Entrenching a parallel private system of care based on ability to pay is not the answer and will make wait times longer,” said Brisard.
“We applaud today’s decision but also urge federal and provincial governments to make the required investments in our public health care system so that we can improve access and equity.
“Earlier this week, B.C. Premier John Horgan and his counterparts called on the federal government to boost its contribution to health care costs.
“While the constitutional responsibility for delivering health care lies with the provinces, it is a national project founded on the principle of fifty-fifty cost-sharing between federal and provincial governments.
“Medicare’s principles of equity and access can be defended in the courts. Let’s not let them be undermined by a lack of resources and planning.”