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BC man’s stroke illustrates dangers of for-profit MRI scans, funding cuts to public health care

Michael ButlerThe Council of Canadians opposes the use of for-profit, user-pay Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to diagnose medical conditions.

Earlier this month, we spoke out against the Saskatchewan government’s new legislation that would allow more user-pay MRI scans in that province. Today, the CBC reports on a British Columbia resident, Peter Peczek, who suffered a near fatal stroke after a private MRI clinic failed to detect his illness.

CBC reports, “Peczek said the emergency room physician told him he couldn’t have an MRI done right away in the public hospital. …[The attending doctor] referred Peczek for a scan at the private local MRI clinic instead. …Peczek paid $1,300 at Image One in Kelowna. Radiologist Casey McMillan interpreted the scan on behalf of the clinic and concluded there were ‘no significant findings’. …The radiologist who read Peczek’s MRI for the private clinic also works in a public hospital. …Go Public discovered that several doctors who work in or manage public hospital systems also own or work for private MRI clinics in B.C.”

The article comments, “Peczek’s suffering has … raised broader concerns over mixing public and private-for-pay health care — including possible conflicts of interest and errors by physicians who spread themselves too thin.”

Public health care advocate Dr. Ryan Meili says of this situation, “You add an element of conflict of interest. You can wait … or go around the corner, pay me a bit of money straight up and we’ll see you right away. …[Plus] moonlighting can be dangerous, especially with something as detail oriented as reviewing scans.”

Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler shares the same concerns.

He has commented, “When you have a two-tiered system with private clinics it makes staff shortages even worse as health professionals are poached from the public system. …We only have to look as far as Ontario and Manitoba where studies have shown that the introduction of private clinics for MRIs increased wait times in local public hospitals because they poached scarce technologists and radiologists; this reduced the number of hours that the local public hospitals’ MRIs could operate. …Moreover, with private MRI clinics we have seen that they are located in urban centres (where the wealthiest clients are), removing scarce health care professionals, capacity and funding from rural areas.”

Instead of for-profit, user-pay MRIs, Butler says, “Investing in human capital for public health care is an issue we can’t ignore and perhaps a place the Saskatchewan government could put some focus. There are public solutions to address these problems that allow a medicare system based on equity and need to continue. The real solutions to wait times involve us protecting, strengthening, and expanding our public medicare.” But he says these solutions are hindered by the Harper government’s new funding formula that will reduce federal transfer payments for provincial health care by $36 billion over the next ten years.

Butler will be working to encourage people to vote on October 19th for public health care instead of the Harper government’s agenda of funding cuts and privatization.

For more on our health care campaign, please click here.

Further reading
Playing MRI Politics With The Health Of Saskatchewan’s People (October 2014 blog by Michael Butler)
Council of Canadians opposes user-pay MRIs in Saskatchewan (May 2015 blog)

Photo: Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler.