Gender equality in health care?

By Rob South

The privatization of health care in Alberta affects women more negatively than it affects men. This is the finding of a recent report by the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence released at the University of Calgary on Tuesday.

"Because of the roles that they play in our society, women will experience more of the negative impacts of privatization than men," said Cathie Scott, primary author of the study and a U of C graduate medical student.

The report calls on the Alberta government to use caution before making any further changes to health care, but the Ministry of Health and Wellness does not consider the report’s findings to be of any value.

"It focuses too much on trying to express an opinion rather than trying to find any evidence to back up the contentions in there," said David Bray, Assistant Communications Director for the ministry.

Alberta government policy documents dating back to 1989 were analyzed for the report, but no new data was gathered. However, according to Scott, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre for Excellence would do new research if adequate funding was available.

"Women’s organizations have typically been the mechanisms through which women participate in policy discussion," said Scott. "At the same time as the cutbacks to health care funding, women’s organizations have had their funding cutback."

Much of the report focused on the role changes faced by caregivers because of privatization. According to Scott, up to 80 per cent of health care providers are women and privatization has caused lower wages and less job security.

"Increasing privatization has also meant women are facing more substantial responsibilities as informal caregivers of elderly parents and other family members," said Scott.

The report’s authors broadly defined privatization to include any shifting of the burden of payment to individuals, the shifting of health care services from public institutions to community-based organizations and private households, and transferring carework from public sector health care workers to unpaid caregivers.

Bray objects to the report’s use of the word privatization.

"The government is not privatizing health care," stated Bray. "We just passed legislation outlawing the privatization of the health industry."

While the report deals primarily with health care providers, both paid and unpaid, Scott pointed to post-natal care and elderly care as instances were the health system neglects women patients.

"Because of their longer life span, women are the primary receivers of health care for our frail elderly," said Scott.

According to Bray, it is not productive to do gender analysis on the health care system.

"Our policy is to provide quality health care to everybody; we don’t distinguish between different individuals and groups."

The Women’s Health Research Group at the U of C provided support for the writing of the report.

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