Dressel, Holly. WHO KILLED THE QUEEN? The Story of a Community Hospital and How to Fix Public Health Care. 2008. McGill—Queen’s University Press. Montreal & Kingston. Canada

“These facts lead to only one conclusion: public health, with its integral conception of ultimate social equality is the key to health in general.”

This book might also have been subtitled: Who really runs Canada? Dressel, a respected historian, was funded to investigate the closing of an excellent hospital, the Queen Elizabeth with a long tradition of successful patient care when it was forced to close along with many other hospitals in Montréal and the rest of Canada in the mid-1990s.

Dressel starts with the local — the history of this remarkable hospital, its founders, policies and personnel, set in the context of the past and present status of health care and health concerns, including payment, in Montreal and the rest of Canada.

Anyone interested and involved in the politics of universality and social services and who wants to maintain Canada´s ability to provide equitable care to all Canadians should read and respond to this book. Dressel leads us through the personal memories of those who lost their community hospital, including staff, who discuss the sometimes tragic results of that closure — right on up to the slashing of provincial programs across our land to the international forces behind these drastic changes.

The second part of the book reads like a detective novel, but it is oh—so—true. In her years of extensive research, not only into the closing of this one hospital, but into all health cuts, Dressel reveals the dangers to our medical care system — the envy of many — from sources of which the Canadian public has no awareness. Secrets are pried out of government documents, while it was still possible, and we learn that our healthcare, along with education and social services are threatened by foreign influences unknown even to most politicians and concealed or ignored by those who do.

Yet we have (or had) a health care system which is the envy of the world. Gilles Brucker is the general director of France´s health care system and told Dressel he is a great admirer of Canadian Healthcare. And like many foreign health officials he has made a pilgrimage to study our system.

“Brucker feels the forces of globalization that have enormously aided the power of the big pharmaceutical companies and have also helped spread new diseases are a formidable challenge….”

The opponents of our universal system are formidable. The modern world has few borders, except for poor and endangered people. But viruses, tainted food, untested drugs, toxins of many kinds can travel freely. Corporations have international powers under NAFTA, WTO, TILMA and the latest SPP agreement. ´Big Pharma´ has enormous power to influence and control our health system (and profit from it) which does little to regulate it until tragedies happen. Respected researchers have lost funding and positions for reporting the truth about drugs; universities flourish on grants from drug companies and do not want their donors criticized.

Government borrow money and as a result, they are all rated by a USA company, Standard and Poor´s. Then the IMF which is the hit man for big banks comes in and tells governments their rating will suffer, they won´t get credit, their loans will be called if they don´t follow orders. This is the well—known ´Structural Adjustment´ that so many majority world citizens have suffered from. Worthy of note are the governments who have defied this order — Malaysia, Malawi, Venezuela, to name a few.  All poorer than Canada. We are in the G8 — remember?

What we in Canada have not realized is that we too are treated like a ´Third World´ country. In the last 20 years we have been pummelled with stories about ´balanced budgets´ and debt interest owed by ´big government´ without realising the source of these stories is corporations or groups like the Fraser Institute which is a corporate charity.

Yet the blame has to be placed firmly on those we elect to govern us. Politicians of all stripes have slashed health, education, social services without telling us why or who has ordered them.
As citizens we are never consulted and in the 2008 federal election, no politician (with one exception) is talking about our lack of sovereignty in controlling our political and social infrastructure and that we have signed over many powers to corporate or foreign interests in these trade agreements.

Statistics are manipulated and often quoted totally out of context to make the point. The list of services affected is long — not just health but as the IMF points out, ´eliminating regional programming, & other television services by the CBC; eliminating transfers to VIA rail and the CHMC, the National Film Board and the Canadian Film Development Corporation.´ (Most of these are now gone). Dressel notes cuts to Indian and Inuit Affairs, veterans and government scientific research. She quotes from the IMF, “that there would seem to be scope for ´rationalizing these services with a view to increasing the private sectors responsibility for such activity.” She adds, “In short they suggest privatizing any government service possible.”

Dressel writes about alternatives to the slide into privatization and health for profit — which is really what it is all about. She interviews doctors who emphasize patient— based treatment, not disease— based treatment, universality, preventative health care and community involvement. We know that many facilities are not maintained, waiting lists are publicized, and some procedures are already privatized. Poor service is designed to make us think public care is not serving us and so we need or have the right to choose private care.

But most important: is making our politicians accountable and knowledgeable and that every citizen insists on the universality of services in one of the richest countries of the world. If poor Cuba can do it — why can´t we? If we can afford to kill people across the world, why can´t we afford to keep Canadians alive and healthy? This is a moral issue and a human rights issue. We need to recognize that awareness and political will, not economics, can and should dictate our fate.

Filed under Book Reviews, Holly Dressel