Albertans support investigation into doctor bullying, poll find

Albertans overwhelmingly want a public inquiry into doctor intimidation - a probe the governing Tories have refused to call - but a slim majority think PC Leader Alison Redford has kept her word on the issue, according to a new poll.

A Leger Marketing telephone survey of 1,215 Albertans, conducted March 22-25 for the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, also found more than half are satisfied with the public health-care system.

Yet, nearly six in 10 Albertans want the option to buy their own coverage from private medical providers.

The survey probed Albertans' attitudes toward health care, a $16-billion provincial system that continues to be the top issue for voters as they head to the polls on April 23.

On the private care question, having the option to pay was more popular among those living in Calgary, or outside the province's two major cities, compared to Edmonton - where just half of voters said people should be able to pay for their own health-care services from private medical providers.

Wildrose party supporters are the most likely to favour private health-care options, followed by PCs. Among those who say they will vote for the Liberals and the NDP, there is significantly less support.

Ian Large, Alberta vice-president for Leger Marketing, said he was surprised by the large number of Albertans who answered in the affirmative. But he noted "we didn't ask 'do you want to pay for private health care,' but 'do you think we should have the freedom to pay for it.'"

John Church, a University of Alberta political scientist who studies health policy, said as the years pass and governments can't satisfy the public over wait lists and access to service, demand will increase for private alternatives.

The private provision of services can be more effective in some instances, Church added. But overall, his research has found a strong public system works best where no one has to produce a credit card to see a doctor.

"That alone is worth any of the other hassles we have to deal with."

Overall, Leger found 57 per cent of Albertans are satisfied with the health-care system - and satisfaction is consistent across the province.

The poll also asked two questions about the public health-care inquiry called by the Redford government last month.

On the heels of a scathing Health Quality Council of Alberta report in February, the Tory government announced a judge-led inquiry will look into "improper preferential access" to publicly funded medical services.

The council's probe found widespread instances of physicians experiencing "intimidation and muzzling" after advocating for patients, but it did not assign blame or identify specifically who did the intimidating.

Concerns about physician intimidation will not be specifically looked at by the panel, unless it is related to queue-jumping. The government is instead setting up two new health task forces, exploring governance issues and the role of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

That's not good enough for most Albertans.

According to the Leger poll, 71 per cent of Albertans said the government should hold an inquiry into the intimidation of doctors that was found in the council's report.

At the same time, exactly half of respondents said they believe Redford lived up to her promise to hold an inquiry - given during last year's PC party leadership race - by calling a probe into health care queue-jumping last month. Eighteen per cent say they don't know, while almost onethird say Redford did not live up to her word.

"She probably needs to be concerned about that," Large said. "Enough Albertans don't think we've heard the end of the discussion."

Earlier this month, the Alberta Medical Association took out full-page ads in Alberta newspapers, urging the government to call a full inquiry.

The ads have received hundreds of responses and the issue has gained traction, said AMA president Dr. Linda Slocombe.

"I think we have the public awareness around the issue," Slocombe said.

The Leger poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, although regional margins are higher.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 29 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman, with files from Jamie Komarnicki

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