Health inquiry won’t include intimidation allegations

Minister reaches out to medical association

EDMONTON - Health Minister Fred Horne stood his ground on the nature of the province's public health-care inquiry Saturday, indicating recent calls from representatives of Alberta's 7,200 doctors to expand the probe's scope to look at alleged physician intimidation would not sway his government.

"We've made a decision as a government about the public inquiry, that decision's been made and the inquiry's being organized," Horne said.

Premier Alison Redford has called a public inquiry into allegations politicians have been able to jump ahead of other patients to gain faster access to health care.

On Friday, at a meeting of physician representatives with the Alberta Medical Association, doctors called on the province to examine physician intimidation allegations and apologize for what has happened to doctors who advocate for their patients.

A recent report of the Health Quality Council showed more than half of the province's doctors felt they had limited ability to advocate on behalf of their patients, 20 per cent expected "active, hateful obstruction" and 37 per cent said they faced negative reactions.

Horne, who said he does not dispute the facts of the report, said he has already begun reaching out to the medical association, the College of Physicians and Alberta Health Services to brainstorm "ways that we might actually reach out to doctors."

"I don't agree that an inquiry necessarily is the way to go about it, but I agree that we need to focus in on it," Horne said.

The health minister said he doesn't have a specific program in mind yet, but he is working on developing a process for better understanding doctors' experiences.

"I think we need to work together to find ways to reach out to physicians where they work, to go out and talk to them about what their day-to-day challenges are in relationships with administrators and how they get input into decisions that are made and how specifically disputes are being resolved in the workplace," Horne said.

"In my mind, it has to be something that doctors find meaningful and will accept and actually has the potential to improve things. But we've got to address this, because it's that culture, you know, that positive culture where doctors feel they've got some ownership over what's going on in health care, that's the thing I think that's going to move us forward and actually position us to address the problem."

Horne said he believes this dialogue can take place in a safe environment, where physicians feel secure from further intimidation, and said he will not be paving the way for "another plan or another review or another report, but an actual dialogue with physicians on their terms."

On Friday, Dr. Lloyd Maybaum, president of the Calgary and area medical staff association, said Alberta's doctors need to speak with one voice, demanding the province provide for an inquiry and "some form of truth and reconciliation, an acknowledgment of what happened in the past, an apology and a steadfast desire that we are gong to change."

Horne noted he also met with the medical association last week: "I'm not sure exactly what he's looking for. I certainly expressed my regret and the regret of the government yesterday when I spoke to doctors (about) the experiences that many of them have reported enduring and I'll continue to do that every opportunity I get."

Opposition parties are expected to make the Health Quality Council report — and how the government deals with the call for a public inquiry into intimidation — an election issue this spring, when Albertans go to the polls.

But Horne said he and Redford are most interested in moving forward. "It's a serious matter, and I don't think you address it through politicizing it."

Edmonton Journal, Sun Mar 18 2012
Byline: Trish Audette

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