No need for public inquiry, Zwozdesky says

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky says there's no need for a public inquiry into allegations physicians were intimidated or paid to keep quiet about cancer surgery wait lists.
Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to reporters at a news conference in Edmonton Friday. (CBC)

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said Friday there is no need for a public inquiry into allegations physicians were intimidated or paid to keep quiet about cancer surgery wait lists.

"I don't see any grounds upon which anyone could possibly think a public inquiry would be required at this time," Zwozdesky said.

Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith, NDP Leader Brian Mason, Liberal Leader David Swann, Alberta Party Leader Sue Huff and Independent MLA Dr. Raj Sherman called for the public inquiry in a rare joint news conference Friday morning.

They want the inquiry to investigate claims health-care workers were threatened, attacked or intimidated by the Tory government for speaking out, or that any health professional was paid for their silence on health-care issues.

The call came one day after a CBC News investigation revealed a lawsuit in which thoracic surgeon Dr. Ciaran McNamee claimed he was forced out of his practice by Capital Health and two senior managers after he complained publicly to the governing Conservative caucus, the health minister and senior bureaucrats about surgery wait times and inadequate resources for his patients.

"Without a public inquiry, conducted independent of government interference and intimidation, Albertans will be left to wonder just how many more cases like Dr. McNamee are out there," Smith said.

Zwozdesky said his government has already called on the Health Quality Council to investigate claims of inadequate cancer surgery and emergency room wait times, a probe he says the opposition has called for repeatedly.

Because McNamee's case was later resolved and did not go to trial, none of the allegations in his statement of claim have been proven in court. McNamee declined comment about what he received or even how the matter was resolved

Tory leadership candidate wants inquiry

The calls for the inquiry are not just coming from the opposition. Battle River-Wainwright MLA and Tory leadership contender Doug Griffiths said his constituents want an inquiry and are asking why the government wouldn't want to hold one.

"Probably the best way to clear the air right now is to do a public inquiry and look into it and clear the air for the public's benefit," he said.

"Most of the constituents I talk to are really worried that this will just go on and on and on, and the opposition will keep calling for it and there will be more ambiguity and uncertainty."

Independent MLA Dr. Raj Sherman and the leaders of Albera's opposition parties held a news conference Friday to call on the Tory government to hold a public inquiry into health care. (CBC)
Sherman, who stunned the legislature last month with allegations doctors were paid to keep quiet about lung cancer patient deaths, said he has been vindicated.

The former Tory MLA was kicked out of caucus in November after speaking out against emergency room backlogs.

"Each time, I told the truth and other health-care workers in this province told the truth, and other Albertans told the truth," Sherman said. "This government sought to smear, discredit and punish those who wanted to make this a better place to live."

The Health Quality Council probe will review 322 emergency room cases between 2006 and 2010 in which patients are alleged to have received inadequate care.

The investigation will also look at Sherman's allegations that 250 lung cancer patients died while waiting for surgery in the early part of the last decade.

But opposition members say the review by the Health Quality Council is not the same as an independent public inquiry.

With files from the CBC's Charles Rusnell