Don’t expect something for nothing

Penticton Western News publisher Mark Walker examines the problems with Princeton hospital and health care.

A total of  80 per cent of Canadians say they “love” our health care system.

Given that in our system it is virtually impossible to access timely medical care, except in an emergency, the love can only be the result that many Canadians desire not to be American.  Other than being “un-American,” the Canadian health care system is primarily one of rationing care, increasing costs and discouraging competition and innovation. Yet our system is loved by many of those forced to live with it.

Many residents of Princeton, B.C., no doubt also “love” our health care system but are frustrated that their hospital cannot provide consistent emergency care.  Princeton is not the only example of small towns ill served by our system of “universal” health care. Many towns across the country do not have enough doctors –— some have none — to provide general care, let alone emergency care.  It is an unfortunate, yet entirely predictable consequence of government promising free health care for all.

For the residents of Princeton, Interior Health is the villain in their drama. Many in Princeton, as in other towns without adequate health care, blame their regional health authority for the problems, citing cut backs, misallocation of resources and malfeasance on the part of politicians and their bureaucrat lackeys. Health authorities are accused with favouring larger centres while ignoring small towns.

Interior Health is certainly an attractive target, and has made a series of missteps in this case, but residents’ ire toward IH in the Princeton case is misplaced.

Although health as a right appears nowhere in our Charter or Constitution, Canadians have been led to believe that health care is a “right.” If that were true, the “authorities” would be legally bound to compel doctors and nurses and others to provide medical services without regard for compensating those who provide those services.  Essentially, IH would be able to hold a virtual gun to heads of all health care professionals and coerce them into providing care on demand in places like Princeton.

In fact IH cannot force doctors to practice. While there is both the need and the demand for medical services in places like Princeton, our system of rationing care and government fee fixing makes small towns economically unattractive for doctors. The result is doctors, quite reasonably, chose to practice in places that meet their economic and personal needs.

If we had a free market, or even the two-tiered medical system so feared by the NDP and the health care unions, doctors could see a way to make a living in small towns, charging competitive fees for their services where possible, and happily treating those in the public system out of civic duty.  This system works in dentistry, eye care, physio-therapy and magnetic imaging. Veterinary services are provided more effectively and competitively than our current medical system. Under such a system Princeton would have a fully staffed emergency centre, because doctors would be attracted to such a market.

In Princeton, and other places, supporters of our public health care system meet, demonstrate and demand health care as their right. These people rarely stop to consider the “rights” of doctors and others to be compensated for their services. Having been assured by politicians that health care would be provided free of charge, from cradle to grave — and having elected these politicians to do so — it is understandable these supporters are frustrated.

The sad irony of the Princeton situation and others, is that many of the people who are hurt by the system that discourages doctors from practicing in places like Princeton, are the same people who “love” the system, and consider it one of their defining factors — a thing that makes them Canadian.

There is blame to be apportioned where health care is scarce.  The usual suspects, regional health authorities, bureaucrats and politicians certainly deserve some of the scorn.

Most of the responsibility, however, rests with a populace that holds to the childish belief that politicians will give them something for nothing, and have a dogged determination to protect a health care system that fails to provide them adequate care and effective outcomes.

Mark Walker, Group Publisher South Okanagan

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