Waiting times for surgery increase after privatization

doctors in surgery

May 24 2023

The Parkland Institute has released a new study, Failure to deliver, on the impact of the privatization of surgical procedures in Alberta. It has found that waiting times have increased for a number of surgical procedures since the Alberta government started to make more use of for-profit clinics for surgical procedures. This is happening because privatization appears to have resulted in funding and resources being redirected from public hospitals to private for-profit clinics.

The Alberta health care system still relies on public hospitals to perform the bulk of surgical procedures, particularly those that are complex. This meant that, while more surgical procedures are being performed in for-profit clinics, the total number of surgical procedures being performed in Alberta has dropped.

Cuts to funding for public health care accompanied privatization

When the Alberta Surgical Initiative was introduced in 2019, proponents claimed that private for-profit clinics would be used to add to the capacity of the public system. That’s not what happened.

Instead, at the same time payments to private for-profit clinics increased by over 60%, spending on public operating rooms was cut by $15 million. The number of medical and surgical beds in public hospitals dropped from 139 per 100,000 people to 130. With the bulk of surgical procedures being performed in public hospitals, cutting the public system meant a drop in the total number of surgical procedures was inevitable.

Privatization contributes to shortage of health care workers

One reason for long waiting lists is a shortage of health care workers. But privatizing health care services doesn’t increase the number of health care workers. It just means more competition for existing health care workers. It’s part of the reason that, if governments are serious about reducing waiting times, the focus needs to be on improving the public system, including addressing staffing shortages.