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Regulator to get tough with doctors undermining pandemic response in Alberta

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has lost patience with doctors who have actively undermined the province’s response to the pandemic.

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to crack down on anti-vax doctors

Complaints against doctors who actively undermine efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic will be prioritized, says the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. (Cindy Liu/Getty Images)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has lost patience with doctors who have actively undermined the province's response to the pandemic.

At an emergency meeting of the college's council Monday, council members unanimously supported issuing a strongly worded warning letter — underpinned by bolstered standards of practice — to doctors who spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines or advise patients not to get vaccinated, improperly issue exemptions for vaccines and masks, or refuse to be vaccinated or wear masks..

Five thousand Alberta doctors responded to a college survey that found about 96 per cent supported pandemic restrictions and practices but about four per cent did not. And that small group is having a big influence in undermining public confidence in vaccines and safety protocols.

"The four per cent of physicians that are actively working against the rest of the 96 per cent are a source of incredible frustration to many of my colleagues," Dr. Jon Meddings, dean of the University of Calgary's faculty of medicine, told Monday's public meeting.

Meddings said it was "absolutely inappropriate" for doctors to skirt the rules by, for example, handing out vaccine exemptions.

"I think we should take people to task for it," Meddings said, summarizing the sentiment of all the council members who spoke at Monday's meeting.

Another councillor, Dr. Ian Walker, pushed strongly for a warning to intransigent doctors that they will face sanctions.

"Nobody wants to wind up on that sanction list," Walker said. "That is permanent and stays with you for your entire career. 

"But has there even been anything that would warrant that more than some of this behaviour that we're seeing right now?" he said.

"You think about some of the other things that have landed people up on that list, and they're actually quite a lot less significant in my humble opinion than what we are talking about here." 

Complaints against anti-vax doctors will be prioritized

In an interview Tuesday, college registrar Dr. Scott McLeod said the CPSA has already told doctors spreading misinformation that their behaviour is considered unprofessional.

 "Even though we do take action, we need to make it incredibly clear, and councillors wanted it to be very clear, they were in support of much stronger actions in this area," McLeod said. 

From now on, if doctors are defiant, complaints against them will be prioritized, especially those who are putting patients in harm's way by refusing to get vaccinated or wear protective equipment.

"I think that person can expect to have a complaint filed against them and I think it is likely that complaint would be followed by formal hearing," McLeod said, adding that is now happening in other provinces, which eventually will make it easier to sanction doctors through the college's hearing process in Alberta. 

The province's doctors, and the public, will be encouraged to report other doctors whose practices or social media posts are potentially putting the public at risk.

"I think the essential thing for all physicians to remember is that it is their professional responsibility to report physicians that are practising inappropriately," McLeod said.

"I would also recommend that if any member of the public sees this type of practice behaviour going on, report that to us as well so that we can take action."

McLeod said the college has to get tough now because the province's health-care system has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.

Alberta now has the worst infection rate in Canada. Intensive care units are over-capacity, and the morgues at two Edmonton hospitals experienced temporary capacity issues last weekend due to delays in transportation to funeral homes. The issues have since been resolved, Alberta Health Services said in a statement.

The letter to doctors should be completed this week. A second letter to the public will also be issued. 

It will inform the public that the college will support doctors who drop patients who aggressively seek vaccine or mask exemptions or seek prescriptions for alternative treatments such as ivermectin, a medicine used to treat parasites.

"We need to let people know that this is real," McLeod said of the crisis in Alberta's health-care system caused by unvaccinated people.

"Anyone who really doesn't believe this needs to talk to a doctor or nurse who is working on the floors of our health system right now. 

"Talk to the people who are living it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Rusnell

Investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. and follow him on Twitter@charlesrusnell

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