“It is absolutely shameful that this government would not listen to the doctors, the nurses, the pilots, and the maintenance staff." — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President.
Winnipeg (06 June 2019) — Today the Manitoba government announced its plan to privatize the province’s Lifeflight Air Ambulance program – despite vocal opposition from the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE) and Manitoba health care professionals.
Service at Risk
The service provides rapid inter-facility air ambulance transport for critically ill or injured Manitobans from areas outside a 200 kilometre radius of Winnipeg. The program, which is vital to rural and remote Northern communities where ground ambulances can’t reach patients, has many advantages – including highly experienced staff and a clean safety record with no serious incidents, injuries, or fatalities.
But MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky says the government put the service at risk by declaring it was for sale.
“Once they did that, staffing became a challenge under this cloud of uncertainty and the government used the crisis it had created to justify privatizing this essential service.”
Privatization Puts Profits Ahead of Patients
When the government first floated the idea of privatizing Lifeflight, MGEU/NUPGE flight nurses, pilots, and maintenance crew expressed concern that privatization would put profits ahead of patients.
At the time, Gawronsky asked, “do the lives of those living in Northern Manitoba mean that much less to this government? Accessing medical services is hard enough for families living in remote locations – why make it even harder for them?”
The MGEU/NUPGE released a comprehensive report in the summer of 2018, which included research and expert analysis showing this rush to privatize the service was short-sighted and unsafe. The study concluded that privatizing Lifeflight would impact the quality of care and safety for rural and Northern Manitobans.
16 Medical Doctors Reject Risky Rush to Privatization
A few months later, 16 medical doctors from the Lifeflight program also spoke out about the government’s risky privatization plan in a letter, which read: "We, the medical staff of Lifeflight Manitoba air ambulance, wish to make it clear that we are not prepared to work in an environment that provides substandard patient care and increases risk to patients and providers."
They also said that the government’s rush to privatize this service showed “a complete lack of medical consultation in this process.”
"Absolutely Shameful" Government Ignores Other Experts
Despite these words, the government continued to push ahead with its plan. No details were revealed today about which company will receive the contract or when the service will officially be privatized.
“It is absolutely shameful that this government would not listen to the doctors, the nurses, the pilots, and the maintenance staff who have all – for months now – been telling them this is a risky move,” said Gawronsky. “Patient and crew safety should always come first. Today the government has made it clear that they feel differently.”
Larry Brown, President of the 390,000 member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) agrees that the government has ignored the advice of the experts. He said that "this seems like the triumph of ideology over common sense."
“Studies have shown that for-profit health care services cost more and deliver less," said Brown. He added: "Privatizing this service is a bad move by this government. The big question is who benefits? Certainly not the citizens of Manitoba.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE