EDMONTON - Alberta's health minister says he is very concerned over testimony about a deal that allowed patients from a private clinic in Calgary to jump the line for colon cancer tests at a public facility.
Fred Horne reacted Wednesday to evidence presented at the provincial queue-jumping inquiry. Staff at the Forzani and MacPhail Colon Cancer Care Screening Centre testified this week about how patients from the private Helios Wellness Centre were given urgent priority for routine tests in 2010 and 2011.
"I'm really offended by it. I think all Albertans are," said Horne.
"The only way that any of us should be accessing these services is through a physician and through the medical judgement that's exercised by a physician."
The inquiry heard Helios patients had screenings within weeks, while regular Albertans were waiting three years or more.
On Wednesday, the head of the screening centre explained to the inquiry that administrative chaos when the facility opened in 2008 led to some patients getting appointments quicker. Dr. Alaa Rostom testified that specialists not working at the clinic had fewer slots to offer their private patients. So to be fair, they were given one in every two slots.
An audit was done on the Forzani clinic in 2011 and the inquiry heard that Helios patients no longer received special treatment after that.
Horne, who was appointed health minister in October 2011, said he was surprised the preferential treatment of Helios patients may have occurred while on his watch. He said he didn't know about it and it's impossible for him to be aware of "every interaction that occurs in the health system."
Horne said he doesn't think it's necessary for officials to speak with Helios brass. He said he doesn't want to interfere with the inquiry and will wait until it wraps up with a report and recommendations.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said it's unfortunate Horne isn't going to act quickly.
"If Minister Horne finds it offensive, then it's up to him to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said. "It's incumbent upon him to show leadership and make sure this is not happening, not only from Helios but any clinic."
NDP critic Rachel Notley said Helios executives and doctors need to be called to give evidence at the inquiry, as well as managers of other private clinics.
"I think what this issue actually tips off is a much larger issue of queue jumping that exists with the integration of privately funding health care with publicly funded health care.
"This is the tip of the iceberg."
She said before the Helios evidence came up, the inquiry was a ridiculous, expensive public relations exercise for the government.
"If it actually manages to stumble into the area of preferential access as a result of private funding of health care, then I think we could see it do some good."