Paid operation at MUHC opens hornets’ nest

The MUHC is in a spat with the Quebec government over an incident in 2011 in which a woman from Kuwait came to Montreal and paid $200,000 for a heart operation at the Royal Vic that she could supposedly not get anywhere else. The MUHC spokesman makes the shaky claim this was done on compassionate grounds; the health minister finds it unacceptable although his government was not in power in December 2011 when it happened, and the MUHC says they squared it with Yves Bolduc, health minister at the time.

I’m seeing contradictory stuff about how common this kind of thing is here. On CBC radio yesterday I heard a statement (from someone official but I didn’t take notes) that this was a one-off, done at the specific request of the Kuwaiti government and not meant to be an ongoing business proposition by the MUHC. But that item says “M. Fahey avance aussi que ce type d’opérations sont menées de manière plus ou moins régulière dans les centres hospitaliers du Québec et du Canada, toujours sur la base de la compassion” and the Gazette today has a story saying the government of Kuwait signed a contract with the MUHC to arrange for this kind of medical tourism over five years, but has uncovered some stunning irregularities in the whole deal. This story is a must-read.

An MUHC spokesman is quoted as saying “the staff worked on their own time and the beds the patient occupied were closed for budgetary reasons” – maybe he thinks this sounds more reassuring than it is. Doctors and nurses (presumably paid out of the fee?) do not have an inexhaustible store of workable hours, and if they’re motivated to work harder for this kind of gig, it does not bode well for us.

The bottom line here is that if the MUHC prioritizes selling services to wealthy foreigners, that leaves less for Quebec citizens whose taxes sustain the system. It’s being investigated.