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By Joel Brown
Access to Canada's health care system in danger of declining with the opening of a cancer treatment centre run by a for-profit company, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
CUPE sent an official complaint last week to Health Canada protesting the opening of an after-hours radiation clinic at Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre. They argued the clinic should not be allowed to exist because allowing a for-profit company, in this case Canadian Radiation Oncology Services Ltd., is a violation of the Canada Health Act.
"First we believe it's a violation of the Canada Health Act that calls for a public health system to be publicly administered," said Ontario CUPE president, Sid Ryan.
"Secondly, and probably more important, if we give up a portion of our system to the private sector, it'll expose us to the corrosive nature of the free trade agreements. Companies will be able to use this as a leverage point to allowing health care to become privatized.
"Now we're in jeopardy of damaging not just Cancer Care Ontario, but our entire health care system," Ryan said.
Health Canada and Ontario's Ministry of Health have stated that since the cancer treatment will be of no charge to Ontario Health Insurance Program recipients, it is not in violation of Canadian laws.
"One of the principles of the Canada Health Act states health care should be publicly administered by a provincial health insurance plan but the delivery of those services can be provided by both the public and private sector," said Health Canada spokesperson Tara Madigan.
"Access to health care has always been a cornerstone to our health care system," she said. "It should be provided at no cost to insured persons and our stance is that the centre is legal because there are no charges to insured persons."
CCO hopes the clinic eliminates the backlog of breast and prostate cancer patients needing treatment along with the need to refer them to United States treatment centers.
"It makes more sense to invest in Ontario's health care system and provide more patients with timely treatment close to home," said Ken Shumak, CCO president and chief executive officer.
According to CCO, the Toronto area is the highest in need for more treatment centres. About 1,500 patients have been re-referred to the US, while 500 have been re-referred to other cancer centres across the province since April 1999.
Ryan said CUPE has stated in the past they are willing to allow for the extension of operating hours at current cancer clinics, but have been ignored.
"These centres operate for only eight hours a day, meaning they stand idle for 16 hours," Ryan said. "If doctors were to work 12 hours, we'd be able to clear up the backlog."
CUPE is hoping their complaint will halt and prevent any movement towards a private health care system.
"The contract lasts for a year and we'll put the pressure on because we don't want it to reach the duration of the contract." Ryan said. "But we definitely don't want the contract to be renewed."