Startling claims in doctor's lawsuit

A thoracic surgeon formerly from Edmonton claimed in a lawsuit he was forced out of his practice by Capital Health and two senior managers.

A thoracic surgeon formerly from Edmonton claimed in a lawsuit he was forced out of his practice by Capital Health and two senior managers.

The statement of claim by Dr. Ciaran McNamee says his sanity and competency were questioned.

The lawsuit alleged he complained publicly to the governing Conservative caucus, the health minister and senior bureaucrats about surgery wait times and inadequate resources for his patients.

The allegations contained in a statement of claim set out a chronology of events which led to McNamee being "forced" out of his job as head of thoracic surgery for the Capital Health region and his teaching position at the University of Alberta.

In 2001, McNamee sued Capital Health and two senior managers for $450,000. The case was resolved outside court. McNamee declined to comment about what he received or even how the matter was resolved.

After leaving Alberta, McNamee was hired by Harvard University where he now teaches and conducts research. He also works as a surgeon at a top Boston-area hospital.

Dr. Ciaran McNamee now teaches at Harvard. (Provided)

"I am very glad to see that he is able to work in a free and collegial environment," Virginia May, his former lawyer said. "As he would say, what is the responsibility of the physicians of our province? It’s to work and advocate for their patients. But who is advocating for the physicians? He now feels that he is supported where he is working and he didn’t feel that way in Alberta."

May said the chronology of allegations would lead anyone to conclude McNamee was forced out after he stood up for his patients.

The allegations made in McNamee’s court case appear to at least partially mirror those made by Independent MLA Dr. Raj Sherman, an emergency physician, in the legislature last week.

MLA Dr. Raj Sherman reacts:

"This wasn't the doctor I had spoken to but this is proof of the question that I raised in the house two weeks ago. We need to bring Dr. Ciaran McNamee here. We need to get him to testify under oath in a full public inquiry."

Sherman claimed 250 people died, many from lung cancer, while on a 1,200 patient waiting list for surgery around the middle of the last decade.

Sherman further claimed doctors who raised those issues "were either punished or driven out of the province, or paid out in millions to buy their silence, and the costs buried in the books under the former Capital Health region."

May stressed McNamee has never met or spoken with Sherman and has no involvement in the politics surrounding this issue. McNamee first learned of the controversy from a CBC reporter last week.

Because the case did not go to trial, none of the allegations has been proven in court.

Surgeon fell out of favour

Through its chronology of events, the lawsuit implies a connection between McNamee’s complaints about sparse resources and surgery waiting lists and his abrupt departure from Capital Health and the university hospital.

McNamee was recruited to Edmonton to become the region’s head thoracic surgeon in February 1996. In September 1998, he received a letter of commendation from Dr. Stewart Hamilton, the University of Alberta’s chief of surgery, for his commitment to a heavy workload and research.

Independent MLA Dr. Raj Sherman has raised concerns about the health-care system. (CBC)
The statement of claim alleged that in January 1999, Dr. Bob Bear, the executive vice-president of Capital Health, sent  McNamee a letter complimenting his leadership in the thoracic surgery department.

But as far back as late 1998, in the midst of major funding cuts to health care by former premier Ralph Klein’s ruling Conservative government, McNamee began having concerns about surgery wait times.

The lawsuit stated that on Feb. 11, 1999, McNamee made a presentation to caucus, including Iris Evans, who would later become health minister, regarding his concern over inadequate resources being allocated to thoracic surgery patients in Alberta.

Following the meeting, Evans followed up in a discussion with McNamee in relation to the concerns he expressed, the document stated.

Met with deputy health minister

The statement of claim also alleged that on May 7, 1999, McNamee met with the deputy health minister to discuss problems with resources and thoracic surgery delivery.

The lawsuit claimed that two days later, McNamee "received a letter from Dr. (Bob) Bear expressing concern about his meetings with government officials or other officials regarding advocating for thoracic surgery resources.

"Dr. Bear stated in his letter … that Dr. McNamee’s advocacy would no longer be tolerated and that the Capital Health Authority was dealing with the issue on its own time line."

On July 27, 2000, CHA appointed Dr. Tim Winton as the region’s new head of thoracic surgery. McNamee received no reason for his removal from the position.

"Early in September 2000, Dr. Bear and Dr. Winton, or either of them, falsely and maliciously represented to Dr. McNamee’s colleagues at the (University of Alberta) hospital and to CHA and hospital administration that Dr. McNamee was unfit to practice as a thoracic surgeon and that he should be suspended from practice," the court documents stated.

It is alleged they made allegations to McNamee’s wife and former secretary "that Dr. McNamee was in need of emergency psychiatric care."

The lawsuit claimed Bear and Winton not only questioned McNamee’s clinical and surgical skills, they blamed him for poorly managing his surgery waiting list.

McNamee claimed that on Sept. 24, 2000, the CHA and the university "forced" him to withdraw from his clinical practice, teaching and administrative duties until the CHA was satisfied he could return to practice.

As part of McNamee’s contract, CHA couldn’t force him to withdraw without disclosing the nature of the allegations against him, and without giving him a proper practice review in which he would have a chance to respond to the allegations, the documents stated.

Commissioned independent review

McNamee hired a top Edmonton medical-litigation lawyer, who commissioned an independent review of McNamee’s practice by a senior Toronto surgeon.

The lawsuit said it found "no evidence of gross malpractice to account for the sudden dismissal from the medical staff of the hospital or to suggest his practice conduct warranted loss of licensure."

McNamee also underwent a psychiatric assessment at the Rush Behavioural Centre in Illinois. The lawsuit said it found, "there was no basis for the action the hospital had taken."

McNamee did not "suffer from a major psychiatric illness. At the present time, there is no evidence he suffers from a major disorder of mood, thought, cognition, anxiety, impulse control or substance abuse-dependence.

"Dr. McNamee is not believed (to be) impaired, and at the present time, considered appropriate to practise medicine with requisite competency, safety and skill."

In their statement of defence, Bear and Winton denied making false and malicious statements or acting in a high-handed or repressive manner. But they said if it was found they did, they were required to tell people at the CHA and hospital who should have that information.

They said they acted in good faith to help McNamee both personally and professionally.

The statement of defence also claimed McNamee had voluntarily left his positions.