Tory lack of action makes fix for health care appear elusive

The government has it backwards when it comes to the new public inquiry being launched into queue-jumping in the health-care system.

Sure, it's a troubling issue. But former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, who red-flagged the problem of go-to guys in the system MLAs could use to fast- track treatment for influential Albertans, said he put a stop to it before he was canned.

The new inquiry, which Premier Alison Redford insists fulfils a promise she made in her leadership campaign, will determine if queue-jumping "is occurring."

With the microscope trained on health care these days, it's a safe bet the inquiry, headed by retired N.W.T. court judge John Z. Vertes, won't unearth much hanky panky.

It's also safe to assume that, given human nature, queue-jumping took place in the past, but ostensibly we'll never know for sure, because that won't fall within the scope of this probe.

"We have an independent judicial inquiry starting their work today on the issue that matters to Albertans," Premier Alison Redford said Monday.

An odd conclusion, given that most Albertans are far more alarmed that the queues exist in the first place.

Redford and Health Minister Fred Horne blow off demands for a broader inquiry by suggesting a "task force" will take care of such issues as physician intimidation and the impact of the massive 2008 restructuring.

Better yet, as a government heading into an election in April, they hope it will put a lid on this mess until well after Albertans cast their votes.

Not much chance of that.

There were too many questions raised in the troubling report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta on physician intimidation, inability to cut wait times and the impact of the major shakeup initiated by Health Minister Ron Liepert after the last election.

Add to this the brutal criticism contained in a full-page ad by the Alberta Medical Association Tuesday that asks: "Just how sick is Alberta's health-care system?"

It addresses patients who've had problems with access to family doctors and specialists, long waiting times in emergency rooms and the lack of long-term care services.

"Unfortunately, the news about the health-care system over the past few days won't give you much hope for improvement in the future," reads the startling "message from the doctors of Alberta."

It's clear physicians, who revealed brutal accounts of bullying and intimidation during the Health Quality Council probe, won't let themselves get kicked around any longer.

It's been a bad week for the Tories, with the revelation a government MLA advised a Catholic school board to shut up if it wanted funding to replace a school that was shamefully rundown.

The episode makes it painfully clear the lengths to which this government will go to silence criticism.

It also raises the question of the price we've paid as a result of this enforced silence.

Redford says "we have to move ahead" on fixing health care, rather than dwelling on "reliving the past to the point where we cannot improve the health care system."

She's probably right, but before we can do that, we have to figure out why our health-care system has gone so horribly off-course, despite the riches poured into it.

The Tory government, which has ruled with an iron fist to stifle dissent, has bungled health care to the point where the province's doctors are now in open revolt.

Somebody needs to be held to account for this mess.

If Redford won't do that, it will be up to Alberta voters.

It's beginning to look like a fix for health care won't come while the Tories are running the show.

Calgary Sun, Wed Mar 7 2012
Byline: Roy Clancy

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