File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Jason Kenney said the NDP is trying to create effectively one monopoly provider for lab services. That means no competition to ensure efficient delivery.

Alberta UCP leader would axe proposed Edmonton superlab, calls it a ‘boondoggle’

EDMONTON — Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says a United Conservative government would scrap a medical superlab and revisit a plan to put all laboratory services under government control.

“What the NDP is trying to do is to create effectively one monopoly provider for lab services. That means no competition to ensure efficient delivery,” Kenney said Monday.

“They are trying to shift workers from the private sector to the state sector because they have this deep ideological bias towards government monopoly delivery of services,” he said.

“We believe in practical, common-sense Alberta solutions, which may very well include bidding out portions of lab services, as most jurisdictions around the world do.”

Construction on the Edmonton superlab is slated to begin this year on University of Alberta land south of the main campus.

Lab services, estimated to cost the government $768 million a year, are currently delivered under a patchwork of public and private testing agencies.

The NDP government is putting all those services under the control of one agency, to be called Alberta Public Laboratories. It would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alberta Health Services.

By 2022, all lab testing would be funnelled through two major hubs — the Edmonton superlab and a facility at Calgary Cancer Centre, which is under construction.

A board of directors and an executive team are already in place.

The government has said the integration would more than pay for itself, even as the number of tests go up, because it would reduce duplication and handle more complex tests currently outsourced to other jurisdictions.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is expected to soon call the spring election. Kenney said a UCP government would put the superagency on hold while consulting on the best way to deliver lab services.

The $590-million superlab would be out no matter what, he said, because it is nothing more than a bureaucratic “boondoggle” to reorganize lab tests that are already handled effectively by the private sector.

“Why is the NDP choosing to spend the equivalent of a new hospital on a building that will not actually touch patients or heal people?”

The majority of tests in the Edmonton region are handled by private provider DynaLife. Its contract with the province runs until 2022. After that, the NDP has planned to buy out the company for $50 million. Kenney said he would scrap that deal, too.

A new consolidated information system, designed to reduce duplication and make it easier for patients and health professionals to get medical information, is also planned. Kenney said he would consult on cost-effective ways to proceed with that.

In 2015, the NDP government cancelled a $3-billion contract with Australian-based Sonic Healthcare to handle almost all medical testing in Edmonton, including construction of a superlab.

Instead, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman pursued the current publicly-funded model.

More than 75 million tests are done in Alberta every year.

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