Recently, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins introduced Bill 87, a.k.a. the Protecting Patients Act. Its goal is one that no right-thinking person could disagree with, namely to identify and punish health-care professionals who sexually abuse patients. The problem is that it is sloppily written, hastily put together to deflect from other health-care stories and will have significant unintended consequences that will harm patients.
My colleague Dr. Nadia Alam wrote an exceptional piece on how Bill 87 is flawed. She detailed how it breeds a culture of fear, will negatively affect practice patterns and abandons the principle of "innocent until proven guilty."
Predictably, some of the people who commented on her column felt that she was off base. One even argued that the provisions in the bill that supercede tenants of jurisprudence dating back to the Magna Carta were "common sense." A feeling that doctors are criticizing this bill to protect their own interests certainly permeates the media.
Except, of course, it turns out that the critics of Bill 87 are right. Last week the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an independent non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the rights and freedoms of all Canadians, came out with a strong critique of the bill.
Concerns listed include:
- Setting a dangerous precedent for ALL regulated professions
- Open-ended provisions that allow a health minister too wide discretion
- NO explicit limitation of the type of personal information to be collected
- Information collection to be done solely at the discretion of one person (health minister)
What we see yet again, therefore, is another sure-to-fail piece of legislation by minister Hoskins. Frankly, to this somewhat cynical eye, this legislation is a continuation of his incompetent style of running the health ministry. The pattern all along from this minister has been to act unilaterally on issues, refuse to accept input from front-line health-care workers and, when things get "politically hot," deflect by having press conferences on unrelated items to try and shift media attention away from just how much health care has crumbled under his watch.
The fact that all his previous unilateral actions have been failures seems lost on him.
For example, three years ago, Ontario had a significant budget deficit. In light of this, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) offered a four-year wage freeze for physicians. In return, they asked for a co-operative, bilateral committee to identify efficiencies in the health-care system. Not good enough for Unilateral Eric, he instead implemented a series of reckless unilateral cuts that have significantly damaged the health-care system.
How reckless? Remember how he recently announced more funding to deal with the opioid-addiction crisis and mental-health issues? Did he bother to tell you that he cut funding for addiction services the year before? And that he admitted that he "found it challenging" to understand how cutting funding to a service would result in loss of that service? Economics clearly isn't his strong point.
Or how about the ridiculous Bill 41, the Patients First Act? He was warned repeatedly by both front-line physicians and the OMA that this act would NOT help patients and would only increase the bureaucracy.
Didn't stop Unilateral Eric. Rather than work co-operatively with others to improve the bill, he did it his own way. The result? Even the Toronto Star, which Kelly McParland states lives to promote eternal Liberal rule, was forced to admit that the supposed savings from Bill 41 may not come to pass. (My two cents -- I've never, ever, ever seen taxpayers save money when governments increase bureaucracy).
Worse yet, his approach to dealing with any negative publicity has been to deflect by targeting physicians. Stories in the press about long wait times for joint replacement surgery? Hold a press conference and accuse an ophthalmologist of bilking the health-care system by "overbilling." The fact that wait times for cataract surgery are growing exponentially get ignored.
Now, most recently, we are hearing about some wait times for assisted living called a "50-year wait," and even delays in cancer surgery. How does he deal with that? Unilateral Eric hurriedly launches this flawed bill and shuts down debate to allow broader input. Attempts by the OMA to suggest amendments that will strengthen this bill are ignored.
Unilateral Eric barges ahead anyway. The fact that all his previous unilateral actions have been failures seems lost on him, and reports of patients suffering from gaps in care seem to be neglected. In fact, it is likely because these stories are in the press that he is rushing ahead with this bill to make it look like he is actually doing something positive.
The completely unacceptable part in my opinion is that it is going to be the real victims of abuse who suffer. The first time someone is charged under this law, the unconstitutionality of it will be challenged, resulting in a strong possibility that a perpetrator could get off on a technicality. Can you imagine the impact this will have on a victim? To see someone who harmed them so egregiously walk away without punishment?
The government of Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne is in a lot of trouble. She is woefully unpopular. Her party is badly lagging in the polls. Senior members of her Liberal party have publicly asked her to resign. She has, at best, one cabinet shuffle left to try and reverse her fortunes.
Wynne may very well owe Unilateral Eric big for making her premier. It was his backstabbing of Sandra Pupatello at the Liberal leadership convention that gave her the leadership, after all. But if Wynne is serious about governing the province properly, her next step must be to shuffle the most disastrous health minister Ontario has had in recent memory out of his portfolio. She needs to replace him with a competent minister, who will at least attempt to work co-operatively with front-line health care workers. Only then can we begin to reverse the damage done to the health-care system.
It's time for Unilateral Eric to go.
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