CALGARY - A proposed overhaul of Alberta's health-care legislation could include a charter and an advocate to enforce it.

Legislature member Fred Horne, who led the team that listened to over 1,000 Albertans in workshops earlier this year, says the charter would recognize the patient as the priority. Horne said that may seem self-evident, but it hasn't always been the case.

"I'll be very honest with you, in some communities the answer (on who the priority was) was, 'Everybody but me,'" Horne said Thursday.

Horne said too often the focus has been on budgets and the needs of professionals.

"We don't talk a lot about the needs of the people and the purpose of the system being there to meet their needs."

He said the advocate, who would report to the health minister, would be needed to ensure the charter had some teeth.

"That's exactly the point Albertans brought up, so we recommended the health advocate have responsibility for the charter. And that role would be to help people, to help point them in the right direction (and) to have their concerns addressed.

The proposals are among 15 that were outlined by Horne. Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will review them and advise next month which ones he'll adopt.

The proposed charter, said Horne, would not be used to limit access to care. It would instead promise that all Albertans would have the right to primary care, such as a family doctor. It would also provide mechanisms for people to have their concerns recognized and resolved.

The charter would not be subject to court litigation.

Horne and his eight-member advisory committee heard from 1,300 people across the province over four months. There were also 1,500 web-based surveys and written submissions from more than 80 organizations.

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said he's optimistic an overhauled health act would enshrine publicly funded and delivered health care. But the devil will be in the details, he warned.

"We really need to proceed with caution about implementing the recommendations of this report," Smith said in a news release. "Our goal should be to preserve and improve our quality public health-care system, not to provide justifications for introducing more private care."

Smith's union is the largest in Alberta at 70,000 members. Most work in health care.

Opposition Liberal Leader David Swann said he respects the work of the committee and those who responded with ideas, but the exercise simply affirmed what everyone already knew.

"As far as I can see, this government continues to dodge and divert and ask for more consultation, not really listening to what many of the experts are saying," he said.

"It's time for better management. It's time for a longer-term commitment to publicly funded, publicly delivered health care."

— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton