The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled against legalizing private health care in a landmark ruling released Thursday (Sept. 10).
After a trial between the province and the Cambie Surgical Corporation that spanned nearly four years, Justice John Steeves ruled against founder Dr. Brian Day’s assertion that patients should be able to pay to access private surgery and tests sooner if they deem the public system wait times to be too long.
The 880-page decision did note that too-long wait times can harm patients with deteriorating conditions.
“Specifically, some of these patients will experience prolonging and exacerbation of pain and diminished functionality as well as increased risk of not gaining full benefit from surgery,” Steeves wrote.
Day, an orthopedic surgeon, has hinged his decade-long legal battle on arguments around patients having a right to pay for services if wait times in the public system are too long. He operates the Specialist Referral Clinic, which refers patients to the Cambie Surgery Centre, a multi-specialty surgical and diagnostic facility, containing six operating rooms, recovery beds and overnight stay rooms. The centre is considered to operate at standards equivalent to a major public hospital in B.C.
He had maintained that four plaintiff patients have been deprived of life, liberty and security under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms after suffering harms from waiting for surgery in the public system before they sought care at his clinic.
The plaintiffs in the case did not claim that a two-tier system would shorten wait times in the public system. The plaintiffs instead used sections seven and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to assert that B.C. cannot maintain a monopoly over medical services if it cannot guarantee timely care.
Day first opened the clinic in 1996, stating that his motivation was not profit but rather to provide surgeons and patients with more operating hours.
However, the facility has been operating since 2003 in violation of the provincial Medicare Protection Act.
In 2018, the province announced it would start to fine doctors $10,000 for a first offence if the charged patients for procedures and services that were available under the public system. However, Day received an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court to pause fines until his case was dealt with.
Shortly after the ruling came down, Health Minister Adrian Dix said he was “extremely pleased” with the judgement.
“It’s fair to say… that this ruling emphasized the strength and importance of public healthcare as a cornerstone of our identity in British Columbia,” he said.
“Access to necessary medical care is based on need and not on an individual’s ability to pay.”
Dix said the province would review the decision before taking action, saying they don’t have a date set out to begin enforcing the Medicare Protection Act.
He did acknowledge that there is a role for private clinics in the province’s duty to provide health care, but noted those centres are contracted exclusively for day surgeries.
Black Press Media has reached out to the Cambie Surgery Centre for comment.
More to come.
– with files from The Canadian Press
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.