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Shameful Sham Editorial

in Halifax Chronicle-Herald, April 11/07


THE prime minister has shown where he stands on wait times. The sick can wait for service, but he canít wait for an election.

If provinces want to set sham targets that donít shorten how long Canadians are waiting for cancer treatment, heart surgery, MRIs, CT scans or joint replacements, thatís OK with Stephen Harper.

Heís even handing them $600 million to play this charade, and saying this delivers on a promise "to develop a health-care guarantee that ensures patients receive essential medical treatment within clinically acceptable waiting times."

The deal with the provinces does nothing of the sort. Each province merely has to guarantee a maximum wait for one service by 2010. The wait doesnít have to meet any clinical test. Provinces can pick any easy target they please.

They are setting maximums longer than todayís average wait for service, longer than benchmarks they agreed to in 2005 and longer than times recommended by doctors. This is no way to improve services on which lives depend.

But the deal will shorten the wait that seems to matter most to Mr. Harper Ė the time he must spend as a minority prime minister before seeking a parliamentary majority. Before rushing to the polls, he needs to check wait times off his list of promises and this deal gives him his coveted political checkmark.

Yet the sick are being betrayed. Pledges in a Dec. 2, 2005, Conservative announcement of the guarantee are not being kept. This deal doesnít establish "a medically acceptable maximum time" for any service. It doesnít "fulfil the commitment" made by governments in 2004 to set maximum waits in five areas. It wonít "be implemented right away."

Whoís being fooled here? Not patients. They canít be duped by phoney "guarantees" that donít relieve their anxious vigils. Can Mr. Harper honestly tell them heíd find it acceptable for one of his family to wait eight weeks for radiation Ė the maximum time guaranteed by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? Provinces agreed in 2005 to a four-week benchmark and the consensus among oncologists is 10 days.

Canada needs a leader who will invest the time and resources to bring key wait times within medically acceptable limits. A national alliance of medical specialists estimates the realistic cost is $3 billion. Instead, weíve been fobbed off with fake improvements driven by a political timetable.

Itís Mr. Harper who should be made to wait Ė for his majority. He hasnít earned one with this failure to do the right thing, as promised, for sick Canadians who are waiting too long for their treatment.