Healthcare inquiry won’t get needed results
Alberta’s opposition parties say Premier Alison Redford is wasting money on a healthcare inquiry into queue-jumping instead of the larger issues plaguing the provincial system.
Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman and health critic Dr. David Swann, the only two physicians in the legislature, are renewing their call for a comprehensive public inquiry.
“The PCs aren’t interested getting to the bottom of this because it’s too damaging for them,” says Sherman. “They’re wasting money on a political dog and pony show. Albertans want real answers, not this constant spin doctoring.”
All opposition caucuses, as well the Alberta Medical Association and Health Sciences Association of Alberta, endorsed an inquiry that would be open to the public and focused on a wide range of health system issues, including alleged wrongdoing, intimidation, and interference by government; however, funding has been approved for a panel to look solely at issues related to queue-jumping.
The public inquiry, announced on February 28, is in response to the Health Quality Council of Alberta’s Review on the Quality of Care and Safety of Patients Requiring Access to Emergency Department Care and Cancer Surgery and the Role and Process of Physician Advocacy.
The inquiry will be conducted in accordance with the Health Quality Council of Alberta Act, and the inquiry panel has all the powers, privileges and immunities of a commissioner under the Public Inquiries Act. A final public report is to be provided to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta by April 30, 2013.
Wildrose Health Critic Heather Forsyth says the $10-million inquiry skirts the issue of physician intimidation, is a misuse of tax dollars and another violation of the principles of transparency and accountability.
The current terms of reference restrict the inquiry to the issue of “improper preferential access to publicly funded health services” and not the pressing question of how Alberta Health Services and the Provincial Government bullied medical professionals into silence on their concerns about shortcomings in health care services, according to Forsyth.
“The priority for Albertans and our health care professionals is an inquiry that is focused on eradicating the culture of bullying and intimidation,” said Forsyth. “The current health inquiry is not designed to get results but only to offer political window dressing for the Premier.”
Forsyth accuses Premier Alison Redford of breaking a promise made in 2011 to hold an inquiry that included investigating physician intimidation after a report released by the Health Quality Council of Alberta showed the practice was widespread.
“What’s the point in spending millions of dollars on an inquiry when it is designed not to get the answers on how to improve our health care system?” exclaims Forsyth. “Our physicians and front line health care workers, who hold our entire health care system together, deserve better than millions wasted on broken promises.”
The Liberals say they are adamant that for health care delivery to be improved, mistakes of the past must be examined and corrected. This latest announcement does nothing to address the sustained crisis in ERs, the history of political meddling, and the documented culture of fear and intimidation affecting doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, they say.
“This government has flip-flopped and, yet again, derailed a real investigation into this issue,” said Swann. “It has failed to do what is necessary to restore the confidence and trust of Albertans and the health care workforce.”
“Redford broke her promise, clear and simple,” claims Swann. “She caved under the pressure of those whose performance has been unacceptable for the past 10 years.”
Alberta Liberals believe the doubling of home care funding, providing every Albertan with access to a family doctor, guaranteeing surgery and emergency wait times, and calling a real public inquiry into the health care system are the first steps to fixing health care in Alberta.
The Alberta government approved an operations budget of up to $10 million for the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry being led by Justice John Z. Vertes.
A 20 per cent portion of the budget – or $1.7 million – will be held back as a contingency for cost overruns and will be made available at a later date if it is required.
“We are committed to ensuring an open, independent and transparent inquiry process,” said Health Minister Fred Horne. “This funding will provide the inquiry panel with the resources it requires for a thorough examination of the issues.”
The government has also accepted the inquiry panel’s proposed policy for determining if financial assistance should be provided to witnesses and interveners who have standing before the inquiry panel and have applied for such assistance. The Commissioner will decide who will receive funding, based on criteria established by the inquiry panel. The panel may submit a second budget to government for funding for interveners and witnesses, at a later date, if necessary.
The Executive Director for the inquiry, in conjunction with the Health Quality Council of Alberta, will establish and implement a system of internal budget monitoring and spending oversight, and will provide regular budget updates to the government and Albertans.