Critics ask why queue-jumping inquiry not calling controversial doctor

Alberta's queue-jumping inquiry is being accused of a lacking "independence" for not seeking the testimony of a doctor whose story of intimidation and preferential access indirectly led to the inquiry.

Surgeon's claims of preferential access indirectly led to inquiry

Critics ask why Alberta's queue-jumping inquiry is not calling controversial Dr. Ciaran McNamee. 3:20

Alberta’s queue-jumping inquiry is being accused of a lacking "independence" for not seeking the testimony of a doctor whose story of intimidation and preferential access indirectly led to the inquiry.

Dr. Ciaran McNamee was willing to testify, but inquiry officials decided his information was "dated." (Provided)

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Dr. Ciaran McNamee said an inquiry lawyer contacted in him early January about testifying. Several emails were exchanged but eventually McNamee said he heard nothing more.

"(I am) willing to co-operate, in any form or fashion," he said in an interview from Boston, where he teaches at Harvard and is a lung surgeon.

Inquiry lead counsel Michele Hollins declined an interview request Sunday but confirmed McNamee is not being called to testify because it was decided his information was "dated" and would provide little useful information about queue-jumping that may be occurring now. But Holllins said she is willing to speak with McNamee if he wishes.

That decision angered Calgary Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann.

"It raises serious questions about the independence of this inquiry when the largest scandal — or alleged scandal — in queue-jumping has been brushed aside," he said. "It needs to be examined."

Allegations lung-cancer patients died while on long waiting lists

In March 2011, CBC News first reported McNamee had sued Capital Health and two senior managers for allegedly forcing him out of his practice and unfairly questioning his competency and sanity.

The lawsuit alleged McNamee, while head of thoracic surgery at the University of Alberta Hospital, was forced out after he complained publicly to the governing Conservative caucus, the health minister and senior bureaucrats in the late-1990s about surgery wait times and inadequate resources for his patients.

The two sides settled the lawsuit in 2001 and none of the allegations was proven in court.

The CBC story followed closely Liberal MLA Dr. Raj Sherman’s allegations in the legislature that 250 people died, many from lung cancer, while on a 1,200 person waiting list for surgery in the mid-1990s.

The story caused the three opposition parties to jointly demand a public inquiry into doctor intimidation. Premier Alison Redford promised an inquiry but instead Alberta’s Health Quality Council held a closed-door inquiry into the health-care system generally.

It found widespread evidence of intimidation but named no names. It also found no evidence to support Sherman’s allegations of rampant lung-cancer deaths due to lengthy waiting lists.

Lung-cancer patients ‘bumped’ by other surgeons?

But CBC News has learned that in the course of McNamee’s lawsuit, there was an allegation that his budget for lung surgery had been all, or in part, effectively taken over by other surgeons at the hospital. That allegation also was not proven.

But Swann, in a news release last week, said "many of (McNamee’s) patients were ‘bumped,’ allegedly by other surgeons given preferential access, resulting, allegedly, in preventable deaths among his patients."

McNamee is bound by a non-disclosure agreement and can’t discuss what he believes happened, unless he is subpoaened to testify by the queue-jumping inquiry.

"If the commission wishes to subpoena me, I will cooperate, and I will respect their mandate," McNamee said. 

Critics dispute contention doctor’s information dated

Calgary resident Susan Wright wrote the inquiry, known formally as the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry, last month to ask why McNamee had not been called to testify.

Wright told CBC she has closely followed health-care issues in Alberta and believed McNamee’s testimony would be critical. She said an inquiry lawyer also told her McNamee would not be called because his information was "old and dated.

"I would challenge that," Wright said, adding, "I think the process is aimed to get clarity, and to bring the truth forward. And I think that this is a valuable piece of information that would be missing."