Manitoba

Province vows to soothe concerns over privatization of air ambulance

If at first you don't succeed at convincing Manitoba Lifeflight doctors their service should be privatized, try, try again.

16 doctors who threatened to quit allege patient care would suffer if for-profit model is employed

The Manitoba government will meet this week with the 16 physicians who threatened to quit over the planned privatization of Manitoba's air ambulance service. (Google)

If at first you don't succeed at convincing Manitoba Lifeflight doctors their service should be privatized, try, try again. 

Health minister Cameron Friesen said Monday his government would try for a seventh time to soothe the concerns of 16 doctors, who threatened to quit if the Lifeflight air ambulance service is privatized.

This week's meeting would be the first attended by Friesen, who was shuffled to the health portfolio in August, he said.

"If they feel like a seventh meeting would be helpful to them, to additionally air concerns they might have, I welcome it," Friesen said. 

"As the new minister responsible for health, it's perhaps a good time to engage with them once again."

The physicians are speaking out against the province's plans to privatize a service currently operated by Manitoba Government Air Services to try and save money

The doctors wrote in their Oct. 20 letter they're concerned about the impact to patient care when a valuable service, operated without serious incidents for 30 years, is shifted to a for-profit model.

Threatening to quit

"We, the medical staff of Lifeflight Manitoba air ambulance, wish to make it clear that we are not prepared to work in an environment that provides substandard patient care and increases risk to patients and providers," the letter reads.

Friesen deflected a suggestion his government failed to explain itself to the physicians, given six earlier meetings did not placate their worries.

"We share their fundamental concern, which is making sure this service is there for Manitobans, is not negatively compromised and can be expanded."

Friesen did not answer whether he was worried the physicians would walk off the job, saying he's happy to meet with the doctors later this week so they can understand each other better.

NDP leader Wab Kinew said the province should listen to the medical experts and abandon its plans.

Doctors are truthful: NDP

 "Who do you believe a physician or a politician?" Kinew asked.

The Manitoba government issued a request for proposals in July to privatize the air ambulance and general transport services. The province expects to announce the winning bid in early 2019.

The physicians' letter expressed unease that privatization would delay care, as the switch to a private operator limits the type of planes that can be flown, which may restrict the number of runways they can land on. 

It is further alleged privatization will create a two-tiered health-care system, where northern Manitoba residents would be disadvantaged by slower response times. 

If need be, Friesen said the province would opt for the status quo rather than transfer work to an inadequate private firm.

"The market is going to tell us whether such a service can be provided and meet that standard that we've set for safety," he said. "If it can't be met, that engagement won't be entered into." 

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represent the 16 physicians, said the rush to privatize the service is "short-sighted and risky."

Health minister Cameron Friesen said Monday his government would try for a seventh time to soothe the concerns of 16 doctors, who threatened to quit if the Lifeflight air ambulance service is privatized. 1:48

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese reports from the Manitoba Legislature for CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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