Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says he won’t boost the funding of the McGill University Health Centre despite the pleas of cancer patients and the physically disabled at an emotional news conference Thursday.
Although Barrette acknowledged that the government is flush with $300 million in additional health funds, he argued that it wouldn’t make sense to use some of it to cover the MUHC’s budget deficit.
“I have an additional $300 million of new money, right,” Barrette told reporters after the press conference by the Central Users’ Committee of the MUHC.
“That’s what we are investing in this current budget. I cannot take 15 per cent of that additional money to cover a $42-million deficit in one hospital if (all) measures to put in place are not. That’s proper management on our part.”
“Some corrective measures that were taken elsewhere were not necessarily taken at the MUHC,” he added.
Barrette disagreed that the MUHC is underfunded, but he did concede that “the MUHC was in the worst situation in the province” because it was “overwhelmed” by an unusually high number of patients in need of alternative care.
The five-hospital network provides specialized acute care, and patients requiring so-called alternative care are better served in other institutions like public nursing homes or rehabilitation centres.
Earlier on Thursday, the users’ committee complained that “patients are caught in the middle of political bickering between the ministry and the MUHC administration, and it is time to remind both of them that their priority should be providing seamless, high-quality care to patients.”
Committee members shared horror stories of delays in treatment, and problems in the design of the MUHC superhospital for patients in wheelchairs.
Amy Ma, co-president of the committee, cited the case of a Stage 1 lung cancer patient who was in need of surgery to remove a tumour. The wait took so long that by the time the operation became available, the patient’s cancer had deteriorated to Stage 3 and was considered inoperable.
Ma noted that a number of patient services, like the cancer survivorship program, have been suspended because of a lack of funding.
“Cancer doesn’t go on vacation,” Ma added.
“Unfortunately, every day we are seeing the harm caused to users,” said Pierre Hurteau, a cancer survivor and the committee’s other co-president. “We are receiving more and more shocking complaints from patients and families.”
The MUHC — which opened the $1.3-billion superhospital at the Glen site in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in April 2015 — is struggling amid the steepest funding cuts in its history. Union leaders have decried what they estimate are $120 million in cutbacks in the past five years, while the MUHC’s chief of surgery has said that at least 1,000 elective surgeries will be cancelled this year due to a lack of funds.
Barrette is also considering proposals to fold the MUHC into a larger “conglomerate” of two other west-end health organizations — an idea that doctors and patients oppose as unwieldy.
Barrette denied that he is at loggerheads with the hospital network despite having declared in a radio interview in March that “there is a problem in terms of leadership at the MUHC and we are addressing that issue.”
“There is no battle, war — whatever — between us and the MUHC,” he said.
“The MUHC is a great hospital. There is no war. But there are unfortunately many, many, many, many people making statements that are not exactly the reflection of the reality that we live in.”
Still, the users’ committee warned that voters will remember Barrette’s constant criticism of the MUHC when it comes time to choose the next government in a general election next year.