The following op-ed by Manitoba Health Coalition provincial director Thomas Linner was originally published in the Saturday, June 9, 2023 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press: "The Constant Creep of For Profit Medicine".

The Manitoba Health Coalition has been concerned, from its inception, that the provincial government’s Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force was set up to put private profit over public health-care solutions and patient care. 

We have not been alone in expressing these concerns; doctors, nurses, and frontline professionals from across the health-care system have been speaking up more and more frequently since the Task Force was established in December of 2021. But it is fair to say that no one  - not even the Health Coalition - expected our fears to be confirmed quite so brazenly as they have in the past weeks.

On May 19th, the Manitoba Health Coalition helped expose that the Task Force signed a secret contract with Cambie Surgeries and Dr. Brian Day, who has been the biggest proponent of private, user-pay, two-tier health care in Canada. For those who need a reminder, Cambie Surgeries has spent 14 years in court fighting the underpinnings of medicare and Canada’s public health-care system. They were defeated in the BC courts twice, and then had their application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed in March.

It is almost unbelievable that the Manitoba government and its Task Force would reward this political and legal attack on public health care with a contract for surgical procedures -  in Vancouver. And yet, that’s exactly what has happened.

This would be enough on its own, but there is much more.

This week, the provincial government sent its Task Force out in front of the media to defend the government’s decision to tie a $1.8 million investment in the Misericordia Sleep Disorder Centre to an agreement to go along with the very private contracts about which they have previously expressed deep concern. Nevermind that the investments being announced are necessary for basic operations.

This $1.8 million investment could have been made months ago, on the same day that the Task Force was announced, if it were really about patient care. Instead, the Task Force signed a contract with Cerebra, a private sleep disorder company, and pushed the SDC doctors out to the point they felt they had to resign and go public with their concerns.

Last week the Manitoba Health Coalition stood with Dr. Nancy Porhownik and the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals to call for several measures to protect patient safety, including an immediate moratorium on private sleep study contracts, strengthened accountability and  oversight on existing agreements and regulatory limits on the kinds of procedures that can be conducted.

Instead, the government and the Task Force decided to effectively hold investments in the public system - their responsibility in the first place - hostage to private profit.

On top of everything else, it is the Task Force’s lack of transparency that is raising concerns. Last week, the Task Force held a press conference designed to highlight what progres there has been to date in bringing down COVID-19 wait lists for surgical and diagnostic procedures. This press conference included a break-down of procedures they say were conducted in the public system, the private system and out-of-province. 

What they would not provide is a breakdown of which facilities are performing these procedures in the private sector (either within or outside Manitoba’s borders) nor the dollar value of the contracts signed in this endeavour. 

We think we know why.

In March of this year, the federal government withheld over $300,000 in health-care funding to Manitoba due to the province allowing "patients to be charged for medically necessary services that should be accessible to patients at no cost" at a private medical clinic. 

That clinic was never identified by the province.

This raises some questions:

Which clinic was charging Manitoba patients for medically necessary care, and do they have a contract with the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force?

If so, how many procedures are they responsible for, and what is the dollar value they have received from the Task Force - on behalf of the government of Manitoba  - while charging patients illegally for medically necessary care?

For seven years, under Brian Pallister and now Heather Stefanson, the government of Manitoba has pursued an agenda of cuts leading to chaos for patients and health-care providers, followed by privatization schemes being sold as a silver bullet.

The Manitoba government and its Task Force may not like criticism of their emphasis on private profit over public health care, but the fact is that this debate is crucial to Manitobans who believe in universal, public health care. We won't be silent.


Thomas Linner is the provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition