Edmonton

Redford promises inquiry to explore queue jumping, doctor bullying

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is promising that complaints from doctors who say they have been ignored, abused, punished and even fired for speaking out on poor patient care will be part of an upcoming public inquiry.

Health inquiry will start before election, says Alberta premier

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is promising that complaints from doctors who say they have been ignored, abused, punished and even fired for speaking out on poor patient care will be part of an upcoming public inquiry.

Redford says the inquiry will be tasked with looking at all allegations of political interference, queue-jumping and doctor intimidation.

"They have to be (examined)," the premier said Friday.

"I have great confidence this will be a meaningful and a thoughtful process that is going to help us ensure that on a go-forward basis we're creating a better environment for health-care workers and patients."

Her Progressive Conservative government has already passed legislation to have the Health Quality Council independently pick inquiry members.

They will start once the government provides them with the terms of reference, which Redford said will be delivered soon.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that we will have this inquiry starting its work before an election."

Redford was making her first comments to the media following a report delivered Wednesday by a panel of the arm's-length health council.

Wait times intolerable

The report, completed after 10 months of work, said wait times for emergency care are intolerably long.

The panel found officials and politicians played a major role in the crisis by mismanaging bed allocations and sowed confusion by collapsing all the health regions into one superboard in 2008.

While no one died as a result of the bungling, there was a lot of needless suffering and tragedy, the panel said. It pointed out cases such as palliative care patients dying in the antiseptic indignity of an emergency room hallway.

The panel said many doctors said that when they complained about poor patient care, their bosses ignored them, cut their hospital privileges and, in some instances, got them fired.

But Dr. John Cowell, head of the council, also pointed out that while there are big problems, good health care is still being delivered and the system is not on the brink of chaos or collapse.

Redford also defended the province's health care Friday, but agreed work needs to be done.

"We're not standing up here as a government saying the health-care system is perfect," she said.

"I've been premier for 4 1/2 months, and I've never shied away from saying that decisions that may have been made by previous governments were not decisions that had challenges."

'Road map to recovery'

She is focusing on the present, she said, and the council report provides a road map to recovery.

Problems with health care are expected to be one of the key issues as politicians prepare to hit the hustings for a general election.

By law, the vote must be held by the end of May. Redford is expected to drop the writ soon after the budget is passed in mid- to late March.

The Wildrose, Liberals, NDP and Alberta Party have all characterized the council's report as the final straw for a government they say has lost the moral authority to run health care.

In particular, they jumped on a council recommendation that urges Redford to leave the issue of doctor intimidation out of the upcoming inquiry.

The report suggested the council had done all the research anyway and the money would be better spent fixing the problem.

Bullying allegations to be explored

There have also been allegations that there's evidence the intimidation extended right up to some ministers currently sitting in Redford's cabinet, and that the council's suggestion gives Redford an excuse to put scrutiny of her political colleagues aside.

The matter of bullying will nevertheless be explored, the premier said.

"The fact the Health Quality Council report said they wouldn't pursue it any further doesn't mean that we won't do it."