Politically connected Albertans jumped health care queues in the days before the province's health superboard, the former head of Alberta Health Services recently told a Toronto audience of medical professionals.

"I'm told some of my predecessor CEOs had designated 'go-to guys' for discreet waiting list adjustments on request from MLAs," said Stephen Duckett during a speech at the University of Toronto on May 5.

In the address posted on-line by Longwoods.com – a site that publishes academic and scientific research – Duckett adds he "discontinued" the practice.

The economist and health services manager from Australia headed Alberta Health Services for nearly two years.

Duckett's controversial leadership ended last year shortly after the infamous 'cookie exchange,' where he refused to engage with reporters over a crisis in the province's emergency rooms, saying he was too busy eating a cookie.

Duckett was sacked soon after and has remained largely out of the public eye.

'Vague allegations': Alberta Health

A spokesperson for Alberta Health said ministry officials reviewed the video of Duckett's speech.


Former Alberta Health Services CEO and president Stephen Duckett talks to reporters in 2009. ((CBC))

In an e-mail statement to CBC News, officials dismiss Duckett's claims of preferential treatment, stressing they "are vague allegations about what may or may not have occurred in the past."

Duckett's allegations were also dismissed by Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky.

"It's just another of those allegations that probably goes nowhere," he said. "I can certainly tell you that I'm not aware of any of this kind of nonsense going on. I've never heard of it."

Anyone with evidence that queue-jumping did take place should take it to the Health Quality Council of Alberta, Zwozdesky said.

Alberta Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith, Liberal leader David Swann and NDP leader Brian Mason are all calling for a public inquiry into Duckett's allegations.

Such favouritism still exists in the health care system, said Swann on Monday, pointing to the example of the Calgary Flames skipping the H1N1 vaccination lineups in 2009, when Duckett was still at the helm of Alberta Health Services.

"I don't think one man from Australia can change an entrenched system that allows for favouritism in a system that benefits this government.  This is an intransigent, incompetent government that is increasingly showing signs of corruption."

Duckett, who now teaches with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, began his recent speech by highlighting problems with health care in Alberta.

"Compared to other provinces," said Duckett, "Alberta spends more per head, uses more health services and those health services cost more, but doesn't provide quicker access or appreciably better outcomes."

'Over investment in rural areas': Duckett  

Duckett blames some of the current health care problems on politics, saying 40 years of Progressive Conservative governments resulted in "over investment in rural areas.  Unfortunately, mostly acute care provision and an expectation of political responsiveness and fixes."

Duckett's speech also stressed that before the creation of Alberta Health Services, a so-called "superboard" that amalgamated smaller health authorities, there was little accountability or transparency in the province's health system.

"Alberta has an edifice complex. It loves big things," he said. "In health care, it loves hospitals. Over the last decade, capital spending grew faster in Alberta than other provinces, as did spending on hospitals… Yet, as we know, more hospitals doesn't equal better health."

In response to Duckett's speech, a spokesperson for Alberta Health told CBC News the ministry is "moving forward," focused on recently announced changes to enhancing local decision-making and is "confident this will help us realize our goal of having the best publicly-funded health system in the country."

With files from Scott Dippel