The Redford government's decision not to make the investigation of alleged physician intimidation a major part an upcoming health system inquiry may end up causing the Tories no end of trouble in the months ahead.
The inquiry has been launched following the release of a damning report from the Health Quality Council of Alberta. The council looked at the province's overall health system and identified a number of problem areas.
One of those areas involves allegations that physicians have been bullied when it comes to advocating for their patients in terms of services available and services needed.
“Physicians advocating for patients have felt intimidated, placated, muzzled, censored and ignored,” the council said in its report. “They feel disconnected and alienated from the system.
“Twenty per cent of physicians who had advocated (for patients) experienced ‘active, harmful obstruction' for advocating, and a total of thirty-seven per cent reported some sort of negative outcome, ranging from feeling ignored to experiencing censorship or persecution.”
In response to the council's report, Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Linda Slocombe called the findings of doctor intimidation “very disturbing.”
When pressed about the scope of the inquiry and the AMA concerns, Premier Redford said the inquiry will look at whether physicians have been “intimidated by elected or unelected officials into letting patients queue jump.”
The AMA, in turn, called that wholly unacceptable, both for physicians and for the community at large.
“I am expressing my disappointment with the narrow scope of the inquiry to be held,” said Slocombe. “A much broader inquiry is warranted, and necessary, on the issue of physician intimidations.
“The Health Quality Council of Alberta made it clear that intimidation of physicians is a serious and pervasive problem. This matters at a very fundamental level.”
Premier Alison Redford has said that the public inquiry “will get answers that Albertans deserve” and that “we will take action on the findings and we will emerge with a stronger health-care system that Albertans can trust and have confidence in.”
Yet unless the Redford government does an abrupt about-face by expanding the health inquiry to include all manner of physician intimidation, and who is behind it, can Albertans really be expected to “trust and have confidence in” the Tories and their promises?
If doctors are being bullied into keeping quiet about the needs of their patients, then Albertans need to know who is behind it and what will be done to stop it.
And don't be surprised to see opposition parties hammering Tory candidates during the upcoming provincial election over the issue of physician intimidation.