09/19/2012 06:44 EDT | Updated 11/19/2012 05:12 EST

BC Private Health Care, Anesthesiologists Join Debate


VANCOUVER - A group of B.C. anesthesiologists is asking to join a constitutional challenge of the province's ban on private health care, but they insist they aren't taking a position about whether there should be more for-profit care.

The British Columbia Anesthesiologists' Society, which represents only some of the province's anesthesiologists, has filed an affidavit with the B.C. Supreme Court asking to intervene in a case launched by Dr. Brian Day, a controversial private clinic operator in Vancouver.

Day, who has been openly flouting the law by offering private surgery for more than a decade, wants the court to strike down the province's health-care law, which effectively bans clinics from billing patients for services already covered by the public system.

While the anesthesiologists' society wants to intervene in Day's lawsuit, the group says it has no position on the issue of private care. Rather, the group's executive director, Dr. Roland Orfaly, insists he only wants to present evidence that the public system isn't working and must be fixed.

"There are solutions out there to make the public system more responsive, more accessible and safer for British Columbians," Orfaly told reporters Wednesday.

"The anesthesiologists don't have a position on (Day's) call for more private health care. Even if Brian Day's petition wins in court, 99 per cent of British Columbians will still depend on a public health-care system for timely care."

Orfaly wouldn't say just what his group will be asking the court to do, other than make a finding that the health-care system is broken. He argued surgical wait times in the province indicate the government is failing patients.

The society has recently been locked in a fight with the provincial government over pay and staffing resources.

However, Orfaly said the application to intervene in the health-care case has nothing to do with the labour dispute. As of August 31, 2012, there were 72,331 patients on surgical wait times in the province.

Orfaly's group claims wait times in B.C. have increased by 76 per cent in the past 10 years. Orfaly said he reached that number by comparing the number of patients on a wait list in a given year with the number of procedures performed.

The ministry suggests that figure is flat-out wrong.

Historical statistics compiled on the ministry's website measure how many weeks it takes for 50 per cent and 90 per cent of patients to receive care.

The government statistics show 50 per cent of patients on surgical wait lists received care within 5.1 weeks in 2011-2012, compared with 4.1 weeks in 2001-2002 — an increase of about 20 per cent. And that number has slightly decreased since 2009, when the 50 per cent measure was 5.3 weeks.

Ninety per cent of patients on wait lists received care within 25.3 weeks in 2011-2012, compared with 23.9 per cent a decade earlier.

The ministry also noted there were 500,000 procedures performed in 2010-2011, and more than half of those never appeared on any wait list.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid disputed the group's wait list claims, but acknowledged the province still has work to do.

"We at the ministry strongly disagree with the claims that they've made, as best I can understand them," MacDiarmid told reporters on an unrelated conference call.

"I will acknowledge that there are some people who wait, in some cases, for care in British Columbia. There is more work to be done. We haven't got a perfect health-care system, but we certainly have an exceptionally fine health-care system in this province today."

The anesthesiologists society's request to join the lawsuit against the province follows a bitter dispute between the group and the provincial government.

The main issues in the dispute include pay for anesthesiologists and staffing levels.

The group threatened to withdraw services earlier this year. The province obtained a temporary injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court stopping the group from withdrawing services, and the society eventually backed off their threats to pull services.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version gave an incorrect figure for the number of procedures preformed without appearing on a wait list.

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