Queue-jumping inquiry hears from experts

Experts discussed the ethics of queue-jumping as the inquiry into Alberta's health-care system continued Tuesday.

Dr. Brian Goldman, host of a CBC Radio show about medicine, is part of an invited panel

The Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry heard from two expert panels on Tuesday. 1:56

Experts discussed the ethics of queue-jumping as the inquiry into Alberta's health-care system continued Tuesday.

Dr. Brian Goldman, a CBC medical journalist, was invited to speak at Alberta's Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry. (CBC)

The experts will help the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry look at what constitutes queue-jumping and whether preferential access can ever be justified.

CBC medical journalist Dr. Brian Goldman, who hosts CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art and practices emergency medicine at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, was invited as one of the experts. Also on a panel were Dalhousie University bio-ethicist Dr. Lynette Reid and former Chinook health region CEO Pam Whitnack.

While the panelists agreed people should be treated based on medical need, they also discussed scenarios that would raise ethical issues, such as whether a child should get treated before an elderly person, if the prime minister should get priority in an emergency room, or if Workers' Compensation Board claimants should get priority treatment.

Private clinics considered

Another scenario discussed was a patient buying a MRI at a private clinic, bumping themselves up on the waiting list for publically-funded surgery, ahead of people still waiting for a publically-funded MRI.

Alberta has some of the weakest rules in Canada when it comes to private health clinics, said Reid, who also discussed what she called the "dangers" of two-tiered medicine, where longs waits in the public system drive people to private clinics, creating preferential access based on a person's ability to pay high fees.

Some health care professionals who could help reduce waiting lists are contributing to the problem, she said.

"If anyone in a position to change the system, they are the ones to do it. I know day-to-day in their practice, they don't often feel like they are in control of these problems …but these are the people who could address the problem and a widespread process of jumping the queues means they are not confronting the problem themselves. We, the rest of us Canadians, face the problems of the long queues and the people who organize our care jump them."

On Monday, the inquiry heard testimony that patients of Dr. Ron Bridges, founder of the Forzani and MacPhail Colon Cancer Screening Centre, were fast-tracked for treatments at that clinic and for procedures at the Foothills Medical Centre.

Bridges told the inquiry he had no idea his patients were getting special treatment.