The McGill University Health Centre is defending itself amid claims that it favoured a Kuwaiti cardiac patient, saying it followed the Quebec government’s guidelines and warned the health minister before billing the Kuwait government for the procedure.

"We have to consider this as a one-off procedure that we did in December 2011 with the full knowledge of the minister’s cabinet at the time," said Richard Fahey, the MUHC’s director of public affairs.

According to a report published in La Presse Friday, the Kuwait government arranged for a 31-year-old woman to be flown from Kuwait to Montreal, where she was rushed to the MUHC by ambulance and given a private room and a round-the-clock interpreter before undergoing heart surgery for an unspecified condition.

He said the woman did not jump the queue ahead of any Quebec patients and the medical team that cared for her signed private contracts.

Fahey said the room and the operating room used for the surgery were unavailable to Quebec patients because there was not enough available staff to work in them. That's something, he said, happens in most hospitals.

The sum charged to the Kuwait government, which was estimated at around $200,000, included $45,000 for doctors’ fees and an extra $150,000 to open the two rooms, he said.

Fahey said the woman’s treatment cost the hospital $50,000.

According to government guidelines, administrators must charge three times the price when treating foreign patients.

The hospital benefited from roughly $100,000 in profit.

"The MUHC sought the approval from [former health minister Yves Bolduc’s] cabinet, his office, before proceeding on this matter and we were given the green light," he said.

He said the hospital agreed to operate on the woman on compassionate grounds because the procedure was "not readily and securely available in Kuwait."

Fahey said the MUHC has not accepted any other such cases this year or last year.

"We need to seek the authorization of the minister each and every time, and should that happen… we would exactly adopt the same procedure, call the minister and get his authorization to proceed," he said.

He said the one-off treatment was done before the hospital began tightening its budget last year to counter its deficit.

Politicians unaware of procedure

'I want to be clear. Quebec is not open for medical tourism.'—Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert

Bolduc told La Presse he did not know the Kuwait government had paid for a procedure in a Montreal public hospital.

Had he known, Bolduc said he would have told the MUHC that operating rooms must be used to accommodate Quebec patients on waiting lists.

Health Minister Réjean Hébert told CBC's Daybreak this morning he was surprised to learn of the arrangement.

"If they can open a new surgery room, they can open it for Quebecers and decrease the waiting time for that kind of surgery," Hébert said. "This is unacceptable."

"I want to be clear. Quebec is not open for medical tourism," he added.

Hébert said his office has addressed the issue with officials at the MUHC, making it clear that, from now on, if any paying patient from outside Quebec requests preferential treatment, the hospital must get the government's go-ahead.

"I will authorize [this] for humanitarian reasons, for people coming from countries where [that] kind of medical care is not available," Hébert said.