Privatizing health care under cover of COVID-19

Privatizing health care under cover of COVID-19

Our health and social services system is at a crossroads. Workers are exhausted, public services are eroding and elderly citizens have been all but abandoned. None of this is new.


The recent austerity measures, Dr. Barrette’s devastating reform, and multiple incursions by the private sector have not only sapped the morale of our troops… they have pushed the public system to the brink.

Unfortunately, the Legault government doesn’t seem to be aware of just how serious the situation has become. Our negotiations on working conditions are making no headway, promises of increased funding are still widely missing the mark, and ever-deteriorating work conditions are forcing a growing number of employees to leave the public system for jobs in the private sector.

We understand that the government was thrust into uncharted waters last March, given the urgency of the situation. But six months later, our understanding is wearing thin. We’re now seeing the health and social services system increasingly enter into contracts with private companies.

This begs the question: is the government using the pandemic as an opportunity to give private companies a bigger segment of the healthcare “market”?

Here are some examples of what we’ve been witnessing:

  • the use of labs owned by a US multinational to process COVID-19 tests (LabCorp, a US company, is the majority shareholder in Dynacare);
  • reliance on personnel placement agencies, some of which, ironically, are owned by managers in the health and social service system;
  • the transfer of regular activities to private clinics, including those of psychologists in private practice, to compensate for a lack of mental health resources;
  • increased funding for private seniors’ homes instead of integrating them into the public sector.

Why we should be concerned

First, because the presence of the private sector in health care negatively affects access to care and services. We’ve been saying this for years to anyone who will listen. In entrusting the delivery of services to the private sector, access is tied to an individual’s ability to pay. As a result, the less affluent are deprived of essential care and those from the middle class incur more debt to pay for services.

We’re told that this is not the case, as it’s the government that often ends up paying the bill for services. But in reality, private clinics limit their services to simpler procedures with a lower risk of complications, leaving the public system to handle the rest, including the more complex cases.

While funds are being redirected into the coffers of for-profit companies, the health and social services system has to ensure everyone’s right to health care.

Let’s be clear. As public-sector technicians and professionals, we’re proud to help improve the lives of Quebecers on a day-to-day basis. We’re proud to be there for people during these challenging times. But we’re tired and we’re appalled. The fact that Québec is using the current crisis to further undermine the health and social services system—and the workers who sustain it—is both shocking and completely demoralizing.

The tragedies of the few past months have to give us the courage to see the situation for what it is: our public healthcare system is now just a shadow of its former self. Its fragility is fueling the greed of those who want to turn care and services into a profit-making machine, to the detriment of the population’s health.

We see what’s happening and we won’t let them get away with it.

By Andrée Poirier, APTS president

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