Another doctor alleges 'suppression' and 'intimidation'
Another former Edmonton doctor has stepped forward with allegations she was forced from her job and subjected to accusations of incompetence and mental instability after she complained health-care cuts were jeopardizing patient safety and lives.
"Physicians can't advocate for their patients in a culture of suppression and personal intimidation," the doctor said in a prepared statement provided exclusively to CBC News. "Such a culture existed for prolonged periods during my years of tenure in Alberta."
The doctor spoke on the condition of anonymity because she is still bound by a non-disclosure agreement she signed in order to receive severance.
She agreed to speak out after seeing a CBC story about Dr. Ciaran McNamee, the former head of thoracic surgery for Capital Health.
In his 2001 lawsuit against Capital Health and two senior officials, McNamee claimed he had been forced from his job and had his competency and mental health questioned after he raised concerns about lung-cancer patient resources with Conservative members of the legislature and the deputy health minister.
The two sides settled in 2006 without going to trial and so none of the allegations were proven.
The revelations contained in McNamee's lawsuit sparked a political firestorm, with four opposition party leaders taking the unprecedented step of appearing together at a news conference to demand a public inquiry.
Both Premier Ed Stelmach and Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky have dismissed the opposition calls as political posturing.
Zwozdesky said the lawsuit was a dispute between doctors and administrators and he said he saw no evidence that would warrant a public inquiry.
"I was fired — my contract was terminated," she told a local newspaper at the time.
Fanning is now semi-retired and agreed to speak to CBC even though she still fears that speaking out may affect what's left of her career.
"I am actually talking to you because I think it's important for professional people to be able to speak about their expertise with a degree of confidence," she said.
The doctor who came forward anonymously Monday said she and other doctors, including McNamee, took their concerns about patient care to Capital Health and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
Capital Health and the CPSA were told that "unsafe practices and unresponsive administrative bodies" were "driven by an emphasis on cost-cutting over patient care."
And as a direct result of cost cutting, "patients were exposed to increasing and unnecessary levels of risk of injury and death."
She said that placed doctors and other front-line workers in an untenable position since they felt a professional and moral obligation to provide safe care.
But she said that when doctors complained, the response from administrators was uniform.
"(We) were at first marginalized administratively, and then, if we persisted, we were demoted and then dismissed.
"Even the Alberta College (of Physicians and Surgeons) provided no meaningful assistance regarding our patient care concerns."
However, the Alberta Medical Association did make available funds for "displaced" Alberta physicians to retrain elsewhere.
"Those who spoke out, were, in my estimation, among the most well-credentialled, dedicated and caring physicians in the healthcare system. It was double loss for Alberta when such individuals were purged."
"A campaign of innuendo, slander and even vindictiveness geared at intimidation and career destruction in many cases accompanied our marginalization, demotion and dismissal."
She said potential employers were told "we were mentally unstable, and/or professionally incompetent and/or major troublemakers."
But she said many doctors, specifically McNamee, had proven professional track records and found work at major medical institutions throughout the world.
"I believe medical care in Alberta, and in Canada, is the poorer for our departure," she said.
The doctor said that, based on her experience, the province needs to hold an independent public inquiry in which, "physicians are truly free to come forth with information without fear of reprisal."
She said she is willing to return to Alberta and testify, but only if the inquiry is independent and only with assurances she won't be sued.