Critics say EY health report disproportionately targets women; government denies sexism

By Catherine Griwkowsky February 12, 2020

The recommendations in Ernst and Young’s review of Alberta Health Services disproportionately target both female patients and health-care providers, critics say. 
Lise Gotell, a University of Alberta gender and women’s studies professor with a background in public policy, said EY’s recommendation to consolidate maternity services in small hospitals, cut pay and benefits for nurses, and label a fleet of female-specific medical procedures as having “limited clinical value” will all have greater consequences for women. 
“In terms of how the savings are going to be accomplished, it seems like there will be a disproportionate impact on women health-care workers in the system and also patients,” Gotell said in an interview with AB Today, adding: “It’s enraging.”
Female-centric procedures deemed to have “limited clinical value” include breast reduction surgery and female sterilization, also known as tubal ligation. 
“If tubal ligations are overused in this province it’s because other mechanisms of birth control are not publicly funded,” Gotell said, adding that reducing the number of these procedures would hit lower-income women the hardest.
Separately, the province has also opened up various gynecological procedures, as well as mastectomies, to be performed in publicly funded, privately delivered surgical facilities. 
Government denies women will bear the brunt of savings
Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s office told AB Today the decisions on the appropriateness of care at Alberta Health Services are being made by medical professionals, not politicians.
“The opposition has tried to politicize the review by claiming it unfairly targets women,” Shandro’s spokesperson Steve Buick said in a statement.
The EY report also lists non-female-centric procedures among those with “limited clinical value,” including procedures related to hernias, hemorrhoids and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as tonsil removal. Those recommendations are based on the operations of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. 
Instead of supplying these procedures, EY suggests the province could treat patients through “alternative clinical pathways” in order to reduce overall volumes and waitlists. AHS is now being tasked with setting a new policy direction to support these recommendations. 
For her part, NDP Leader Rachel Notley is not convinced the potential changes will treat all Albertans equally.
Top of mind for Notley are cuts to benefits and compensation for registered nurses, who are predominantly women, which the review suggests could achieve $42 million in savings.
Notley also said surgeons don’t perform operations arbitrarily and, for example, women who get breast reductions do so to reduce pain, and that tubal ligation surgery is necessary for women who would face health risks if they become pregnant. 
Shandro “backs off like a scared little rabbit” every time he’s confronted with the cruelty of suggestions in the report, Notley told reporters last week. 
On Twitter, Premier Jason Kenney’s press secretary Christine Myatt slammed the NDP for bringing gender into the debate surrounding the EY report. 
“Way to cherry pick from a 200+ page report containing dozens of recommendations,” Myatt tweeted. “NDP and the UCP have plenty of legitimate policy disagreements without having to resort to this gendered crap.”
Gotell sees the proposed changes as part of the UCP government’s larger social conservative mission. 
She pointed to the layoffs in the Status of Women department and the discontinuation of the $25-per-day child care pilot as evidence of a “UCP war on women.”