01/19/2013 02:58 EST | Updated 03/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta Health Queue-Jumping Inquiry Extended After More Witnesses Come Foward


Alberta's queue-jumping inquiry has been extended by seven days, after a slew of concerning evidence was brought forward this week.

Proceedings in the inquiry were scheduled to wrap up Friday, but a surge of new witnesses means the inquiry will continue next month in Calgary.

"I can advise that we are interviewing them now and if we determine that we need to call them, they'll be called," explained inquiry lawyer Ellen Embury to Global Edmonton.

The news comes after calls for Alberta's opposition parties to extend the inquiry that has examined whether private clinics helped province VIPs and people of wealth jump the line to the top of waiting lists.

“I’m ... suggesting that they extend their hearings in order to dig more deeply into the question of private clinics facilitating superior access for people who can afford to pay more," NDP Leader Brian Mason told the Edmonton Journal on Friday.

“The development of private clinics in our province is a way to facilitate queue jumping," said Mason.

However, reports the Journal, the extension will only hear additonal testimony about the terms of reference for the inquiry, not about private clinics.

“Should the commissioner (John Vertes) reach the conclusion that an extension would be required in order to meet the terms of the mandate he has been given, he would direct a request to the minister of health for approval,” inquiry executive director Sheila-Marie Cook wrote in an email to the Journal.

“The Order in Council which established the inquiry would then be amended to reflect any additional time that would be accorded.”

When the inquiry resumes, reports the Calgary Sun, seven experts will testify what constitutes preferential access.

Inquiry head counsel Michele Hollins told The Sun that this week's testimony -- which heard patients at Calgary's private Helios clinic were pushed to the top of the wait list at the Forzani and MacPhail Colon Cancer Screening Centre -- needed further examination.

We do have some work to do in finalizing investigating the CCSC and Helios case,” said Hollins.

The extension will come as welcome news to the Wildrose Party.

Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle told the Journal that more questions need to be asked before the inquiry can be put to rest.

Clearly something untoward has happened … and it’s disturbing,” Towle said.

“Are there other operators offering the same services? Did this happen in other areas of specialty? ... I think Justice Vertes needs more time to do his job properly.

Also on HuffPost

Healthcare Queue Jumping in Alberta and B.C.