Doctors call for public inquiry into intimidation

The Alberta Medical Association is joining the call for a full and open review into the issue of intimidation of doctors who speak up for their patients.

Health Quality Council to examine doctors' concerns in wait time review

AMA president Dr. Patrick White said the organization will support a public inquiry into allegations of physician intimidation if one is called. (CBC)

The Alberta Medical Association is joining the call for a full and open inquiry into the issue of intimidation of doctors who speak up for their patients.

"There are concerns that, when speaking out, physicians may not feel they will be heard or may fear negative consequences," wrote AMA president Dr. Patrick White in a letter to fellow doctors Thursday.

"Personally, I have no doubt that the first instinct of physicians is always to stand up for patients, but the fact that these perceptions are out there at all is a source for concern, while the assertions related to intimidation are disturbing.

"One proposal being put forward is that government should call a full public inquiry regarding the issue of intimidation. While I am not an expert in the various approaches that may be taken, an open and full review is needed to clear the air and move forward.

"The AMA will support and cooperate with such an approach if this occurs."

The AMA letter comes after a number of doctors stepped forward to allege they were intimidated by health care officials for speaking out about patient care.

The allegations prompted all four opposition parties and Independent MLA Dr. Raj Sherman to call on the province to hold a public inquiry. Instead, the government plans to have the Health Quality Council of Alberta hold a review behind closed doors.

Both Premier Ed Stelmach and Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said they didn't believe White and the AMA were calling for a public inquiry.

"I think they've come out indicating that if a public inquiry were to be called that they would support that," Zwozdesky said.

"But let's wait and see what the reaction is to the independent review and the terms of reference which the Health Quality Council just released."

On Thursday, the HQC announced it will include the issue of physician advocacy in its review of patient access to emergency departments and cancer surgery in the province.

White said he isn't sure a public inquiry is the way to go, but he wasn't prepared to comment on the HQC terms of reference as they had just been released. .

"Whatever facilitates an open, transparent process where people go and are free to speak openly about their experiences, that's what we support," White said Thursday.

'Mobbing in the workplace'

CBC News spoke with a Edmonton doctor Wednesday who stepped forward to publicly complain about a "climate of intimidation" which he said nearly cost him privileges to practice medicine after he was secretly accused of mental instability.

"It was a threat to my privileges, a threat to my livelihood, and it took a form of mobbing in the workplace," said Dr. Abilio Nunes.

Nunes was the latest of a number of doctors who have come forward with similar stories.

"The medical profession is being drawn into the maelstrom of Alberta politics as health care dominates Question Period and media reportage," White said in the letter.

The Health Quality Council review will be done in private, but the council will make its findings public within nine months, said CEO John Cowell. Progress reports will be released at three and six months into the review.

The Stelmach government has said doctors can bring whatever concerns they have to the Health Quality Council in full confidence.