The union representing Alberta nurses is troubled by the MacKinnon report and recommendations shifting towards privatized health-care services.
“If this is a government that’s interested in the best bang for our tax dollars, and is interested in evidence-informed decision-making, then many of these recommendations will be tossed out immediately,” United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s worrisome on several different levels.”
The union took issue with seven of the 26 recommendations in the report released Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Recommendations on health care — which makes up 42 per cent of Alberta’s operating budget — ranged from using private or non-profits to deliver day procedures and other services, rather than relying on hospitals, to renegotiating the physician compensation agreement between the province and Alberta Medical Association.
The report also urged the government to widen the scope of practice for health-care practitioners, including licensed practical nurses (LPNs).
hat’s not a new idea in nursing, Smith said.
“We have constantly evolving practise of scope,” she said, adding she would expect the union and regulatory body to be consulted on changes.
But Smith said she’s concerned with the prospect of privatizing health-care services.
“This is a road we’ve travelled before, and it hasn’t been a successful journey,” she said, referencing the proposed ‘Third Way’ of privatized health-care reform under then-premier Ralph Klein in 2005.
The report’s focus on health echoed Premier Jason Kenney’s message during the election, in which he repeatedly pointed to the system as a sector ripe for change, and more private options as the road his government will take in Alberta.
Before the election, Kenney signed a health guarantee on a giant bristol board, promising the UCP would maintain or increase health spending and maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system.
“We were clear during our election campaign that we were not going to reduce spending in education or health care, but in fact look for efficiencies, look for alternative ways of delivering service,” Finance Minister Travis Toews said during Tuesday’s news conference.
Janice MacKinnon, who headed the panel, argued Alberta’s health-care system is spending more money for poorer results compared to other jurisdictions.
“You have to make those changes — fewer hospitals, more clinics, fewer doctors, more nurse practitioners, using private clinics,” she said at the news conference in Calgary.
Her report didn’t go so far as to recommend hospital closures, as happened to 52 rural facilities in Saskatchewan in the 1990s when MacKinnon was the finance minister of that province.
Smith also said the union continues to have concerns with government plans to delay wage negotiations, which has spurred protests and a court battle.
The panel recommended the government consider more strategic and creative approaches to public-sector bargaining, such as tying salary increases to those in other provinces. It argued the government could use legislative mandates to exercise wage restraint.
In the event of a strike, it wrote, those laws would also form the basis for back-to-work legislation.
“Some of these suggestions are really offensive … in terms of bargaining and bad faith by our government reaching into collective agreements,” Smith said. “It’s a concern we have a government that’s planning to ignore constitutional rights.”
— with files from Emma Graney