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Former Alberta Health services CEO: Too many Tories are bad for Alberta's health (care system)

Former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett

It's just as you thought -- having all Conservatives all of the time is bad for Alberta. Even having a few more loony right-wing Wildrosers would be good for our provincial constitution, put a little rose in our cheeks, as it were.

Worse that that, if you get sick, having too many Tories around may well be bad for you!

The authority for this is none other than former Alberta Health Services CEO and budding author Stephen Duckett, the controversial Australian health economist who was canned by Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky last Nov. 19 after the Notorious Cookie Incident ™.

Dr. Duckett, PhD., who now finds himself working as a professor in the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, apparently plans to stick around Alberta for a while -- the better, perhaps, to remain a thorn in the side of a government he clearly believes fired him unjustly.

Whatever one thinks of that sincerely held belief -- and it has been argued here that Duckett at least contributed to the end of his career at Alberta Health Services through his often remarkable lack of diplomacy -- he is certainly right in his basic argument that too many Tories have contributed to the health care woes faced by this province.

His additional allegation, made in the same brutally candid speech to a medical conference May 5 at the University of Toronto, that Alberta MLAs used their privileged position to enable their friends and petitioners to jump the queue for medical treatment is shocking, and surely as worthy of a public investigation as allegations that physicians were bullied by Alberta Health Services.

Duckett's argument about too many Tories is pretty easy to understand, and goes like this:

"The politics of the province, with its rural gerrymander and government longevity, also impacted through over-investment in rural areas -- unfortunately mostly acute-care provision -- and an expectation of political responsiveness and fixes," he said, setting the scene.

The inevitable effect, he explained, came when as CEO he tried to address some of the system's problems. "When I was looking at Emergency Departments, one of the ED physicians said, 'This has been a problem for 10 years.' So I wrote in my blog, 'This has been a problem for 10 years,' and I was told, 'Take that out!' …Why? Well, of course, the government had been in power for 10 years."

"It's very difficult to have an honest and open debate about the performance of the health system in that sort of environment," he stated.

Duckett's comment was further illuminated by Dr. Andreas Laupacis, one of the AHS board members who resigned after Duckett was fired, who described this situation as "one problem with having a one-party system. … Here (in Ontario), if you had something like this, the current Liberal government could say, 'Well, it happened when the PCs were in power' … and now we're going to fix it."

Anyone who has observed the troubles of Alberta's health care system for a while, not to mention the myriad other areas impacted by our troubled political state, knows that this is true. Still, it is useful to hear this observation from a newcomer, and one with some bruises to show for his experience in Alberta.

Duckett's astonishing revelation, made almost as an aside, that "some of my predecessor CEOs had designated go-to guys for discreet waiting list adjustments on request from MLAs" is more disturbing -- and surely worthy of the attention of an inquiry into the operations of the health care system that some future government might strike, as obviously this one never will.

He added that this was "a practice I discontinued," leaving one to wonder what the policy is today, now that Conservative politicians are firmly back in the driver's seat.

Many of us were not particularly enamoured of Duckett during his short tenure here in Wild Rose Country. Nevertheless, he is obviously a keen observer of the scene with particular expertise in the administration health care, so it behooves us to pay attention to his observations.

That is particularly true of the one about too many Conservatives, which we will have an opportunity to rectify sometime in the not-too-distant future.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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