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The much-anticipated report from the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) regarding patient wait times and physician intimidation was released late last month, confirming allegations made by several Alberta health care professionals.
The report stated that emergent, acute and palliative care patients are waiting too long for hospital beds and that physicians who advocate for their patients are being silenced and threatened with legal action by health region officials.
Crowsnest Pass physician Dr. Allan Garbutt, who sat down with an HQCA panel last fall for a 90-minute interview regarding his personal experiences with stonewalling and intimidation resulting from advocating for the Crowsnest Pass Health Centre to receive a specialized C-arm x-ray machine, as well as receiving a letter threatening legal action after being quoted in a Lethbridge Herald article on remarks critical of the health region’s handling of primary care networks, said he was not at all surprised by the report’s findings.
“It is certainly not a surprise to anyone I’ve talked to who works on the front lines – we know that administration has been unresponsive to requests which come up from below,” said Dr. Garbutt.
“It’s good to see the HQCA confirm that.”
Dr. Garbutt added his name to the expansive list of Alberta doctors calling for a public inquiry into the provincial health care system last March when he wrote a letter to then Alberta Liberal Party leader Dr. David Swann - the former Pincher Creek doctor who was then leading the charge for the inquiry - after Swann asked if he or any doctors he knew had ever been intimidated for advocating for patients.
After receiving countless letters from physicians and criticism from the Alberta Liberal Party, the Alberta Medical Association announced it would be calling for an inquiry last April.
Following 10 months of intensive investigation, the report found several problems with the current health care system, including the fact that many urgently sick or injured patients wait 10 to 20 times longer than recommended by Canadian guidelines.
In addition, 51 per cent of doctors interviewed expressed they felt their ability to advocate for their patients was limited in the past year, 20 per cent said they experienced “active, hateful obstruction” for doing so and 37 per cent said they faced negative reactions.
 

Dr. Garbutt said patients, not physicians, are the ones who suffer when physicians’ advocacy is denied or met with resistance.
“Patients ultimately pay the price for dysfunction in the system,” he said.
“Somebody has to pay the price for intimidation, otherwise what it boils down to is they get away with it and patients suffer.”
He said he is glad to see the report confirm the claims of physicians but that the real work will be fixing the problem.
“The question now, of course, is what happens afterward - how do we fix the culture?” said Dr. Garbutt.
“The best organizations empower everybody within the organization to be as good as they can be - too many people in Alberta Health Services empower you to be as good as they want you to be.”
“They should be empowering their people, not intimidating them.”
Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman said in a press release last week that the HQCA should be providing regular reports to the Legislative Assembly and not to Cabinet, in order to help solve the problem.
“It is clear that we must fix the health care system,” said Sherman.
“Our health care system has been broken… and it must be examined from all angles.”
The Province announced last week that it has accepted and will immediately begin work on the 21 recommendations of the report, including striking two task forces – one on health system governance and the other on role clarity with respect to the College of Physicians and Surgeons – and a full review of Emergency Medical Services.
A public inquiry into allegations of queue jumping will also be conducted, in order to determine whether improper preferential access to publicly funded health services is occurring and if evidence thereof exists.
The HQCA report, entitled “Review on the Quality of Care and Safety of Patients Requiring Access to Emergency Department Care and Cancer Surgery and the Role and Process of Physician Advocacy”, is available on the HQCA’s website, hqca.ca.
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