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Toronto, ON – Outsourcing of chemotherapy drug preparation without oversight is “sadly the latest in a string of costly provincial government privatization blunders with serious patient care consequences. Ontarians have a right to expect their government to act decisively when policies it encourages – such as outsourcing – despite strong medical evidence to the contrary, fail,” says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).

Instead of committing to make privatization work better next time as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne did last week, Hurley urged her “to restore confidence in the health system by stopping outsourcing and privatization of hospital services encouraged by her government. This is the remedy Ontarians need.  Tinkering with privatization just won’t work. Like our Premier public hospitals are accountable to Ontarians. Private companies, even when they get public funding, are not.”

While the affected hospitals that had been using a private supplier for pre-mixed chemotherapy drugs are now mixing their own supply in-house, the Premier “has not been pro-active to ensure patient safety. She has yet to order hospitals to stop contracting out services,” says Hurley.  Meanwhile, Ontario’s health minister has acknowledged publicly that there are questions whether privatization of the chemo drug supply was a factor in the dilution of the medication.

The independent investigation into how cancer treatment drugs supplied by a private company to several Ontario hospitals were improperly mixed is important, says Hurley. But to ensure that this type of risk to patient safety will not happen again, it must include the role outsourcing the preparation of chemotherapy drugs played and whether the ongoing severe cuts in hospital staffing has bearing on the incident. “We also need to know if public accountability for this serious medical error is being hampered by ‘commercial confidentiality’ and fear of lawsuits.”  

The privatization of the mixing of chemotherapy drugs is relatively new in Ontario.  Privatization of many other aspects of health care is being encouraged by the current provincial government. This includes an expanded system of private surgical clinics, P3 hospitals and the replacement of public hospital and public long-term care services by private home care and private retirement homes.  

It is only through media reports that Ontarians know that the private company contracted to provide the chemo drugs is not even licensed as an accredited pharmacy. “Even those who support such privatization expect the government to have figured out basic oversight and public accountability before charging ahead with privatization of the health system. Surely that should have been a consideration before any contract was awarded. It is cold comfort to the nearly 1200 cancer patients (137 of them have died) and their families that the provincial government is now vowing to make health system privatization better when the problems with privatized services and contract transparency are already well-know and profound.”

After a string of failed private and contracted out service experiments that include financial fiascos like eHealth and ORNGE and compromised patient safety at nine private surgical procedure clinics that failed inspections, says Hurley, “it should be evident to the provincial government that the evidence is in; outsourcing health services is a colossal failure.  It adversely affects the quality of care and the safety of patients as well as the bottom line.”

Ontario paid 75 per cent more to for-profit labs than to non-profit community labs over the previous 30 years, for the same tests. Patients treated in for-profit compared to non-profit dialysis clinics in the U.S. had an 8 per cent higher risk of dying. Fewer and less well trained staff and shorter treatments are likely the principal factors. For-profit nursing homes have higher rates of ulcers, dehydration, malnutrition, hospitalization and other quality problems.

Hurley called for an end to the “culture of complacency that envelops the provincial government and allows it to brush aside major, systemic medical errors as though a blithe apology and a political out were all that is required when patients may be dying as a result of policies the province encourages, like outsourcing and cost-cutting.” 


For more information please contact:

Michael Hurley, President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), 416-884-0770

Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications, 416-559-9300