Critics question queue-jumping inquiry
Health: Province pledges to follow report recommendations
By: By Tanya Kostiw
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012 01:13 pm
Critics are blasting an inquiry that will explore whether preferential access to health services is occurring in Alberta.
The inquiry will not centre on allegations of doctor intimidation, although some health professionals say they are being muzzled.
The Province is moving forward with a judicial inquiry into queue jumping in the health system led by Justice John Vertes and has pledged to work on 21 recommendations from a Health Quality Council of Alberta report that revealed widespread instances of physicians being intimidated or muzzled when advocating for patients and reducing long emergency room wait times.
The Province plans to launch a health system governance task force and another task force on role clarity with respect to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The Health Quality Council of Alberta will also review emergency medical services.
Dr. Leslie Cunning is a former Black Diamond physician who now works with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and is involved with doctor recruitment to Okotoks. He said he agrees with the council in its report and doesn’t think a queue jumping inquiry is needed.
“You’re not going to see it now,” he said. “Everyone is behaving extremely well.”
Cunning said he hasn’t seen any cases of queue jumping and has been waiting a year for an MRI scan.
“I have to be a little bit more conscious to make sure because of my position that I’m not perceived as having an advantage,” he explained.
Cunning said he has never been intimidated or muzzled, but worked with Dr. Allan Garbutt, who spoke out in the media about being threatened with a lawsuit because he advocated for a new primary care network.
The reorganizations of the health care system over the years have offered advantages and disadvantages, said Cunning, who has seen the rural system undergo five since 1976.
“We needed to have better business organization, but it’s made it harder for the local decisions to be played out,” he said.
Highwood MLA George Groeneveld said the Health Quality Council of Alberta’s report findings didn’t surprise him, but he doesn’t know of any physicians in his constituency being intimidated or muzzled.
“I’m pleased that we’re going to address all the allegations in the report,” he said. “I think that’s really important.”
Groeneveld said he expects the issue of physician intimidation and muzzling to emerge as part of the inquiry because it will address doctors alleging queue jumping and go even further than the context of queue jumping.
“They’re automatically going to be drawn into this, which would automatically take us right to the bullying,” he said.
Groeneveld said it is important for the government to take action and react to all of the recommendations, although some have already been addressed.
“It’s just important that the public see that we’re trying to be as transparent as we can on this,” he said.
Highwood Wildrose Party candidate and leader Danielle Smith said a public health inquiry should have been called to also address physician intimidation.
“(The report) demonstrates very clearly that we have a culture of bullying and intimidation in the health care system and it goes right to the top,” she said. “It goes right up to the politicians.”
Smith explained local staff should make decisions, not the Alberta Health Services superboard.
“We have to dismantle the superboard, get back to local decision-making, empower local hospital boards to work with their doctor staff so that we can solve this problem once and for all,” she said.
Smith said she doesn’t expect the queue jumping inquiry to reveal anything because it will only look at whether it is occurring now.
“We need to understand who were the ones who were using their political position to gain preferential access for their friends and family,” she said. “That’s what we need to get to the bottom of and you do that by looking in the past, not just saying, ‘Well we’re only looking from this point forward.’”
The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) is similarly calling for a full health inquiry around the issue of physician intimidation.
AMA president Dr. Linda Slocombe said the inquiry into queue jumping is not the same as one to explore doctor intimidation.
“An inquiry into queue jumping won’t address the issues of intimidation,” she said.
Slocombe said the government’s commitment to the recommendations are baby steps, at a time when giant ones are needed.
“We need to look back and say, ‘How did we get there? How did this culture of mistrust, how did we allow it to happen? How did it happen and how do we prevent it from continuing?’” she said.
Slocombe said some of the problems stemmed from the chaos in the health care system when AHS was implemented. It became more difficult for physicians to advocate on behalf of their patients, she added.