Quebec signing more contracts with private clinics to help clear surgery waitlists

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said working with the private sector was part of the solution to handle surgery waiting lists that have grown as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the health-care system to scale back some services.

More than 20,000 surgeries have been performed at private facilities since June

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé says the number of people waiting for surgeries in the Montreal area would be 10 per cent higher without agreements made with private clinics. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

The Quebec government will ramp up its use of private clinics in the coming months to reduce the 140,000-strong waiting list for surgeries.

In an interview with Radio-Canada's Téléjournal on Wednesday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said working with the private sector was part of the solution to handle the waiting lists, which have grown as health-care resources have been reassigned to contend with COVID-19 cases.

Dubé said the government has signed around 20 contracts with private clinics in the past six months. He said the number of people waiting for surgeries in the Montreal area would be 10 per cent higher without those agreements.

"We are going to sign even more agreements with the private sector to be able to do even more," he said.

Radio-Canada has learned that 20,500 surgeries have already been performed since June through agreements signed with specialized medical clinics.

According to data obtained from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, without the private sector contracts, a region like Laval would have delayed 76 per cent of surgeries instead of 31 per cent.

Private clinics have had a similar impact in the Montérégie, where the ministry has just signed two agreements worth over $18 million for eye operations and day surgeries.

A review by Radio-Canada has found the total of the ministry's contracts exceeds $100 million.

500 patients had operations at Laurentians clinic

At the regional public health agency for the Laurentians, officials hope to reduce delayed surgeries to less than 40 per cent over the next few weeks.

"We've called on the services of a specialized medical clinic since last September," said Myriam Sabourin, assistant to the head of the agency. "About 500 patients have been able to have operations there."

Sabourin said that a second similar deal was reached this week.

In the Lanaudière region, the public health agency has no agreement with the private sector despite 56 per cent of surgeries being delayed.

Using private sector services should be the subject of public debate, said Dr. Isabelle Leblanc, president of Médecins québécois pour le régime public, a public health advocacy group.

"Yes, in the current situation, in a time of a pandemic with delayed surgeries, I think we must use all means possible and imaginable so that all patients who need care have it," she said.

"But I think we can question the way they have chosen to subcontract to for-profit companies to provide care to patients that we should be able to treat in the public system."


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