Killing Edmonton superlab 'doesn't change the evidence' it's needed, health council says

The Alberta government cancelled the $595 million project Thursday, saying it was too costly and disruptive.

Health Quality Council of Alberta says findings from its 2016 report still stand

The Alberta government has killed Edmonton's superlab at the University of Alberta South Campus, it said Thursday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Health Quality Council of Alberta says the evidence supporting the need for a superlab in Edmonton still stands, despite the project being cancelled by the province.

On Thursday, Alberta's UCP government announced it will officially cancel the $595-million construction project.

The project, spearheaded by the previous NDP government, would have consolidated medical laboratory services for Edmonton under a single roof and put drug testing under the umbrella of Alberta Health Services.

Announced  three years ago, the plan was based on a review conducted in 2016 by the health quality council, which has a legislated mandate to promote and improve patient safety and health service quality in Alberta.

"We certainly understand that the government has to look at its priorities and available funding for all their different projects so we understand difficult decisions were made in regard to the lab project," Andrew Neuner, the council's CEO, said Friday.

Neuner said the health quality council's recommendation to bring lab services under a single public-sector platform is still valid, since it came out of a larger data review after consulting with more than 1,400 people. 

"The evidence still exists to support that," he said. "We respect the government has to balance a variety of priorities and funding ability in order to move forward with it but it doesn't change the evidence."

Current issues with Edmonton's lab services delivery include outdated equipment, along with inconsistent information systems and reporting protocols, Neuner said.

He said consolidating lab services would have provided more government control over public policy, increased efficiency and allowed Albertans to receive their lab tests and results in a more timely manner. 

Project 'expensive and disruptive,' says province

On Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the decision to cancel the superlab fulfilled a promise made by the United Conservative Party during the election campaign earlier this year.

"We're standing by our commitment to cancel the expensive and disruptive superlab project and the ideologically driven plan to nationalize DynaLife," Shandro said in a news release.

Under the NDP plan, DynaLife, the current service provider, would have received a $50-million payout when its current contract expired in 2022.

Construction for the superlab started early this year on a site at the University of Alberta South Campus. The UCP put construction on hold shortly after forming government in April.

The province said $23 million of the $595 million capital budget for the project has already been spent and $50 million will be saved from the cancellation of the planned DynaLife buyout. 

"We're going to put patients at the centre of the health system and invest health-care dollars where they're most needed to strengthen our publicly funded health system and deliver better results for Albertans," Shandro said. 

Shandro also told reporters later Thursday the government acknowledges the need for more investment in lab services. 

"We're going to continue to work with our stakeholders and be able to continue to look at ... what the next steps are and how we invest in that infrastructure," he said.