Braid: Jumping queue rare but still troubling

 

 
 
 
 
Calgarians in line for H1N1 shots at a public health clinic on Oct. 26, 2009 were expecting a long wait.
 

Calgarians in line for H1N1 shots at a public health clinic on Oct. 26, 2009 were expecting a long wait.

Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald

CALGARY — It’s ironic that after rooting around for weeks in the ruins of the old health regions, the queue-jumping inquiry has finally found two stark cases.

And both happened after Alberta Health Services took over.

First came the Calgary Flames’ H1N1 vaccinations in 2009, a slam-dunk case that was flagged at the time.

Giving special access to the hockey players and their families was just wrong, even though testimony from a fired nurse suggests mitigating factors, as well as scapegoating by the superboard.

Now we have a surprise revelation: clerks at the Foothills colonoscopy clinic testify that some patients from a private medical clinic, Helios, got quick access to colonoscopies.

“It was a common practice with Helios to make sure they were a priority,” said a clerk who quit the public testing facility in frustration with management.

Sometimes, witnesses testified, Helios people would walk the patients into the public colonoscopy clinic.

There’s more coming on this, but the initial outlines are very disturbing.

While waiting lists for the general public were as long as three YEARS, some patients coming through another route got their tests in weeks or months.

There was even testimony that one fellow skipped his test to go to Stampede. He was quickly rescheduled near the top of the vast waiting list.

I’ll tell you what happened when I managed to forget a scheduled colonoscopy.

My fine gastroenterologist, elegantly irritated with me, put me exactly where I belonged — at the very end of his line.

A lot of people tend to “forget” their colonoscopy. It’s an invasive test with a three-day prelude of chemically induced internal explosions. Many people, including me, would prefer to wait three years for the next one.

But nobody should — or should have to.

Even though this test isn’t pleasant, it’s essential. Colonoscopies catch many tumours at early stages. The former Liberal leader, Laurence Decore, might be alive today if he’d had one at the right moment.

On Tuesday, the point was made at the inquiry that some Helios patients were classified as urgent to move them up the queue, but they only displaced people whose cases were not considered urgent.

That’s no kind of excuse. Colon cancer doesn’t always show symptoms. For a percentage of non-urgent patients, getting bumped down the list could be dangerous, even fatal.

As the inquiry has proceeded, it’s been impressive to see the powerful ethical sense among health professionals.

Many are sickened by the thought of the privileged moving up the queue. After watching testimony at the inquiry, I’ve come to believe they ensure it doesn’t happen often.

But this Helios case, if it proves to be true, doesn’t fit the general pattern.

The testimony suggests planning and inter-clinic connections. If a private clinic made such arrangements just to avoid inconvenience for patients, that’s serious business.

Then there’s the suddenly crucial question of AHS. Is it really so squeaky-clean?

Events that happened before AHS was formed prompted this inquiry. A government lawyer has tried, without success, to block questions about the days preceding the provincewide board.

But where there seemed to be smoke, little fire emerged. Problems were happening when the AHS was in charge. And both the cases we now see — the Flames vaccinations and the new colonoscopy case — came after ex-CEO Stephen Duckett issued his famous memo banning queue-jumping at AHS.

It’s long been a mystery why the government resisted this inquiry for so long. Maybe we finally have the answer.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

dbraid@CalgaryHerald.com

 
 
 
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Calgarians in line for H1N1 shots at a public health clinic on Oct. 26, 2009 were expecting a long wait.
 

Calgarians in line for H1N1 shots at a public health clinic on Oct. 26, 2009 were expecting a long wait.

Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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