08/21/2013 03:26 EDT | Updated 10/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Queue-jumping a fact, Alberta medical inquiry finds

Cutting the wait times for medical procedures is one of 12 recommendations contained in the final report from Alberta’s queue-jumping inquiry.

Long waiting lists for medical care can prompt patients to look for ways to jump to the front of the line, said John Vertes, who was the commissioner of the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry.

In his final report, the retired judge calls on the province to set up a comprehensive wait-time management measurement system.

Premier Alison Redford ordered the queue-jumping inquiry after a report by the Alberta Health Quality Council on problems with the province's $16-billion health-care system.

The inquiry heard 68 witnesses and examined 172 exhibits in Calgary and Edmonton from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013.

Other recommendations include introducing a standardized referral booking system to improve access and cut down on the time it takes for patients to receive a referral in Alberta.

Cancer screening centre cited

According to the final report, claims made by some people that it was common for rich, well-connected Albertans to jump wait lists for medical care proved to be unfounded. But the inquiry did discover other instances of queue-jumping, Vertes said.

Evidence showed the Forzani and MacPhail Colon Cancer Screening Centre in Calgary provided improper preferential access to patients from a private clinic.

“The inquiry did in fact learn of incidents of improper preferential access and also identified several systemic issues that could foster an environment conducive to such improper access,” Vertes said in his report.

Government health-care officials must fix the problem of queue-jumping in order to improve public confidence in the system, he said.

Vertes also recommends clarifying the “scope and application” of professional courtesy, and providing guidelines to health-care practitioners. He also calls on the province to establish an independent office of health advocate to provide advice and advocacy for patients.

Opposition weighs in

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman says queue-jumping is just one symptom of a broken health-care system.

The inquiry didn't uncover anything that wasn't known already, he said, and there were many areas that could have been explored more deeply, such as intimidation of front-line staff and why there is a queue in the first place.

“This government has wasted precious time and millions of taxpayers’ money to investigate a symptom of a disease instead of formulating a plan to cure it," he said. “Albertans deserve so much better than this. They deserve a government truly concerned about their health and well-being, not playing politics.”

New Democrat health critic David Eggen said the report shows the dangers of privatization in Alberta’s health-care system.

“All Albertans believe that they should have access to high-quality health care when they need it, regardless of their income,” he said. “The fast-tracking for wealthy clients from these boutique private health clinics show the impact of two-tier health care, and confirm that you can’t trust this government to stand up for public health care.

Eggen said he would like to see the government strengthen laws that would ensure the system is fair for everyone.