Privatization plan for laboratory services places corporate profit over patient care
Edmonton, Alberta – A new report from Parkland Institute examines the UCP government’s privatization of Alberta’s medical lab services to DynaLIFE set to happen on July 1, 2022, as announced last week by Alberta Health Services (AHS).
The report, Misdiagnosis – Privatization and Disruption in Alberta’s Medical Laboratory Services, evaluates the government proposal through a public interest lens, drawing from financial data, lab professionals’ experiences, and hundreds of pages of files obtained through a freedom of information (FOIP) request.
“The DynaLIFE deal rewards a large corporation and its shareholders over the current and long-term interests of Albertans,” says report author Rebecca Graff-McRae, a research manager at Parkland Institute. “It offers false economies, minimal savings, a smaller and demoralized workforce, a massive infrastructure deficit, and a fragmented system with little accountability.”
Quietly announced in June 2021, the deal with DynaLIFE is a part of the UCP government’s dismantling of the public lab service plan that was in place prior to Jason Kenney’s election. “The public lab plan had widespread buy-in,” says Graff-McRae, “and addressed infrastructure problems that had been growing during almost three decades of systemic neglect of public laboratories.”
The report also questions the promise of substantial cost savings presented by the government as justification for the deal. Through FOIP requests to AHS and the Ministry of Health, it became apparent that the full cost-benefit analysis used to justify the RFP process would not be released. Despite the government’s blatant lack of transparency, however, an analysis of available financial data suggests that the cost savings are far less than claimed by the Province.
“The government predicated their plan for laboratory services on the review of AHS conducted by Ernst & Young, which claimed potential savings of $102 million per year. Those claims, however, are directly contradicted by AHS’s own internal calculations, which suggest savings of $18-36 million at most.”
The report demonstrates how the quality of patient care will likely be a casualty of the privatization plans. Unaddressed infrastructure problems, for example, directly impact quality of care, since outdated or offline equipment increases not only turnaround times but also the likelihood of a misdiagnosis.
Reducing staffing costs by having more assistants and fewer technologists working in the labs was one of the recommendations of the Ernst & Young review. “Where more work is pushed to cheaper hands to save costs, increased responsibility is downloaded onto staff with less experience and training,” says Graff-McRae.
“Lab techs and lab assistants are the unsung heroes of the health-care system. Without them, doctors are only guessing,” says Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, a union that represents 6,000 lab workers in the province. Parker agrees with the report’s recommendation as he explains that “our members have been yanked back and forth between public and private systems. This has increased the levels of insecurity for lab professionals at a time when they have been asked to work above and beyond to keep Albertans safe.”
The UCP laboratory plan will considerably impact rural communities most of all. “Some foreseeable scenarios include patients having to travel further and being on longer waitlists,” says Graff-McRae. “We are already starting to hear about staff layoffs and the closing of facilities in some communities, but the full impact of the privatization and disruption of the labs will be revealed once the DynaLIFE contract is implemented over the next few months.”
Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. Misdiagnosis – Privatization and Disruption in Alberta’s Medical Laboratory Services is available for download on the Parkland Institute website.
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