Alta. MLA alleges hush-money paid to doctors

Doctors were paid not to talk about the deaths of 250 lung-cancer patients who died waiting for surgery, Alberta MLA Raj Sherman alleged Monday.
Independent MLA Raj Sherman made his allegations during Monday's question period at the Alberta legislature. (CBC)

About 250 lung-cancer patients died waiting for surgery and doctors were paid not to talk about it, an Alberta MLA and emergency room doctor alleged Monday.

"It has been brought to my attention that due to fierce competition for finite operating time between surgeons, about 1,200 Albertans were on a wait list for lung surgery, 250 died waiting on that list, many with lung cancer," Raj Sherman told the Alberta legislature in a question to Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky.

"It has also come to my attention that physicians who raised these issues were either punished or driven out of the province, were paid out in millions to buy their silence and the cost buried in the books under the former Capital Health Region."

Sherman alleged the payouts occurred while Gary Mar was minister of health, which was between 2003 and 2006.

He said the former CEO of the disbanded Capital Health Region, Sheila Weatherill, and Dr. Trevor Theman, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, were aware of the situation.

Sherman also alleged Capital Health kept a second set of financial books that included the payouts.

"I don't know if those allegations are correct," Zwozdesky said after Sherman called on him to investigate. "They are certainly sounding inappropriate to me. But I won't challenge them at this time. I said I will have a look into this issue and I will do that."

Zwozdesky wanted to know where Sherman got his information and asked him to share or table it in the house. Speaker Ken Kowalski reminded MLAs they have an onus to show proof of any allegations they make.

MLAs cannot be sued for what they say inside the legislative chamber. Sherman would not repeat his allegations when he spoke to reporters after question period. 

When contacted by CBC, Theman said he has never heard about the wait list or the coverup alleged by Sherman. He said he wasn't the registrar when Mar was minister of health.

Sherman, the MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, has sat in the legislature as an independent MLA since he was turfed from the Progressive Conservative caucus last November for speaking out against long emergency room wait times.

Sheila Weatherill was appointed to the board of Alberta Health Services in February. Mar, who is currently Alberta's envoy to Washington, is widely believed to be considering a run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.