In the News June 20
Privatization of Health Care
Human Consequences of Governments’ Abdication of Responsibility for Health Care
A feature of the over three-decades long neo-liberal anti-social offensive in Canada is the systematic wrecking of the health care system. Nurses, doctors and other health care workers in every province and territory have been raising the alarm, organizing and demanding action to end the crisis in health care by increasing investments and implementing solutions proposed by frontline workers. A major concern is shortage of health care workers.
Statistics Canada reported in 2019 that approximately 4.6 million Canadians did not have a family doctor. One consequence, aside from the obvious harm to people who cannot access care, is that for treatment of illnesses and injuries that are usually dealt with by family doctors, people instead go to the emergency departments of hospitals resulting in longer wait times for treatment and stresses put on emergency departments and their staff.
In terms of nurses, Statistics Canada reported on March 22 this year that the largest increase in job vacancies in the health sector was for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses with 23,000 vacancies, an increase of 117.1 per cent in two years; licensed practical nurses, 10,800 vacancies, an increase of 190.2 per cent in two years, and nurses aides, orderlies and patient service associates, 20,500 vacancies, an increase of 81.3 per cent in two years.
The nursing shortage that has been caused by governments’ failure to invest in the public health care system has a significant negative impact on the health and well-being of Canadians. Hospitals across the country have closed beds and entire wings, postponed or cancelled surgeries and other treatment because of the lack of nurses.
Nurses and other health care workers are leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers because their working conditions are incompatible with their own health and their ability to care for those who depend on them. When working conditions are made untenable by the drive to privatize health care the impact on health care workers and the public is incalculable.
The imposition of wage freezes and caps on wage increases and increasingly impossible workloads parallels the expansion of agencies which poach workers from the public system. The agencies then charge a fee to “supply” qualified health care personnel to cover staff shortages in hospitals, long-term care homes, home care and other services. Many agencies have been started by managers who have left the public system to set up their own for profit companies or join with already established multinational hiring agencies like Nurse Next Door which has established over 200 senior home care franchise locations in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, as well as its home care business.
The neo-liberal outlook of the rich and governments in their service was succinctly presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in an interview with the Toronto Star after her June 16 speech to the Empire Club in Toronto about the government’s spending priorities. She explained that she is a strong believer in a market economy where business innovations and jobs are created by the motivation to make money and earn profits. In other words, the problems she is addressing are those of the rich, through more handouts and other pay-the-rich schemes, all of which will only deepen the crisis. The problems of the society which needs a robust modern public health care system which recognizes health care as a right, will be solved through the determined fight of the working class for a change in the direction of the economy from one which puts profit at the centre to one that puts human beings and their needs at the centre.
Workers’ Forum, posted June 20, 2022.