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Health care for all


In last September's Targa Newfoundland, I had a message written in large letters across the hood of the car I was driving. Nothing unusual about that. Normally most parts of a racing car are covered by messages that advertise various sponsors. The sponsors pay to finance the preparation of the car and expect the publicity to increase sales. There were no sales involved in the message on the hood of my car. Unless you consider that I was trying to help sell an idea.

Neither here nor there -

In last September's Targa Newfoundland, I had a message written in large letters across the hood of the car I was driving. Nothing unusual about that. Normally most parts of a racing car are covered by messages that advertise various sponsors. The sponsors pay to finance the preparation of the car and expect the publicity to increase sales.

There were no sales involved in the message on the hood of my car. Unless you consider that I was trying to help sell an idea.

The message read: Save Our Rural X-Ray Clinics.

You may remember that last September Paul Oram was the minister of Health. He had recently announced the government's plan to close x-ray clinics in Flower's Cove and Lewisporte. As opposition began to mount, the hapless minister defended his position, stating that residents of Flower's Cove and Lewisporte were not being singled out. Other small rural towns were being targeted for closures, but he wouldn't say which ones. He called it streamlining. Naturally, every person in every town with a clinic wondered if they were next.

When I was preparing for the Targa, I learned the route would pass close alongside Lewisporte. I wanted to express solidarity with those who were struggling to reverse the government decision to close their clinic, the one in Flower's Cove and stop closures in all the unnamed places on Oram's list.

I wanted to do this because I believe in publicly funded universal health care. Apart from all the common sense reasons why protecting all our citizens is the right thing to do, I have two personal reasons to be committed to publicly funded universal health care.

First, my late sister Dr. Jane Pickersgill was the chief medical officer of health for central Newfoundland for years. She graduated from medical school with a firm belief that it was a doctor's role not only to heal but to ensure that healing was available to all. That principle became ever stronger during her years in public health in rural Newfoundland. She rarely missed a chance to express her steadfast belief in the principle.

Second, I am a life-long asthmatic. Jane's notion of society's health care obligation to all its citizens was an easy sell with me. If I had not lived in Canada during the 64 years I have been afflicted with this disease, I hesitate to imagine where I might be today.

That is why I had the message emblazoned on the hood of my car during the Targa.

A very large number of people took note. I remember particularly sitting in the queue for the starting line in Leading Tickles, my helmet on and my intercom hooked up to my co-driver. An ambulance driver, waiting alongside leaned out of his vehicle and gave me a big grin and thumbs up. People in the health care professions are understandably keen that their ability to do their jobs not be undermined.

As it turned out, the people of the Straits and White Bay North were unconvinced by the government's panic-stricken pre-election climb-down from their decision to close the Flower's Cove clinic and the voters returned a Liberal member. Paul Oram was relieved of his responsibilities as minister and left politics. Jerome Kennedy took his place and rapidly reversed all that Oram had threatened. Peace seemed to return once again to the health care community in the province.

I'm not sure.

Recent events show that this government does not believe in preserving publicly funded health care for all of us.

After the premier's office put out the press release that Danny Williams had gone to the USA for heart surgery, they were silent on the matter, interrupted only once when Minister Dunderdale passed on the information that the premier, recovering from a successful operation was not happy.

"You forego a lot of privacy when you put your hand up to do this job, but there are certain areas that are sacrosanct," she said. "This has been extremely frustrating for him, I believe, and extremely frustrating for his family."

The premier was frustrated and not happy. Good news. Things had returned to normal, He was obviously well on his way to a complete recovery.

Last week he gave an interview to NTV. In it he said, "Our communication plan was quite simple. It is my heart. It is my health, it is my choice."

Absolutely.

Unlike using your cell phone while driving there is no law in this country that says if you have the means to pay for health care anywhere in the world you can't do so. While it would not be a legitimate defence when caught phoning and driving to say, "It's my phone, it's my car, it's my choice", what the premier said about his stateside surgery is quite correct.

Legally.

And it would be perfectly fine if he was just another multi-millionaire able to buy whatever he wants.

But he's not just that. He's the Premier of a province whose population's faith in health care here has been shaken to its very centre. An important part of a premier's job is to lead by example.

Instead the premier decided to make offence his best defence by saying, "I have the utmost confidence in our health-care system, I certainly do. It's a bum rap for someone to turn around and say, 'Oh Williams does not have confidence in his own health-care system because he has to leave the province'".

So why did he? Is it simply a case of "Do as I say, not as I do?" It is difficult for this observer to square the two things. Particularly now that it is clear the surgery he went to the USA to undergo is available in Canada. How can you have the utmost confidence in our system and then leave the country for treatment? I am hoping the premier will eventually be able to make me understand.

In the meantime, if I was driving in the Targa tomorrow, the message on the hood of my car would read: "Publicly Funded Universal Health Care: It's our plan. It's our money. It's our choice."

pickersgill@mac.com

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