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Documents confirm plan to sell ‘unused capacity’ in BC operating rooms

New Democratic Party health critic Adrian Dix said newly released documents confirm Premier Gordon Campbell offered to sell surgeries to people from Saskatchewan even as his government was cutting surgeries for B.C. residents.

“They were going to offer public health services in B.C. not based on need but to low acuity patients from Saskatchewan,” said Dix, noting the arrangement would likely breaks federal health laws.

Dozens of pages of heavily censored documents obtained by the Saskatchewan NDP indicate that the plan goes back to at least as early as August 10, though it only became public in the last week of October when health minister Kevin Falcon confirmed B.C. was working toward a memorandum of understanding with Saskatchewan to offer surgeries at a “premium” price.

A two-page proposal included in the documents says B.C. would offer hip and knee joint replacement surgeries to people from Saskatchewan, but a price would need to be worked out between the provinces. “This [operating room] program, utilizing identified Lower Mainland sites and staffing (including nursing, administration and surgeons) would be set up specifically for these out-of-province cases at sites where unused capacity exists.”

If there was unused capacity in B.C. it was only because the province had been cutting the number of surgeries it was willing to fund for British Columbians who were waiting for treatment, said Dix.

He believes the plan, which was met with public concern in both Saskatchewan and B.C., will never be implemented. "These were on the face of it nutty ideas that were likely illegal," he said.

A spokesperson for the B.C. health ministry said charging other jurisdictions more than it costs to provide the surgery would allow B.C. to provide more services to British Columbians. Negotiations with Saskatchewan have not advanced past the preliminary discussions, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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