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Fifth person fired for alleged privacy breach at Health Ministry

Sep 14 2012
Margaret MacDiarmid: B.C. government is protecting people's private information. 

Margaret MacDiarmid: B.C. government is protecting people's private information.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

A fifth person has been fired as part of an alleged privacy breach in B.C.’s Health Ministry.

B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid confirmed Friday that one of three people in the Health Ministry who was suspended without pay in July and August has now been fired.

Due to privacy concerns and the ongoing investigation, MacDiarmid said she could not name the person or explain how and why the employee was fired.

However, generally speaking the minister explained, the issues relate to the same inappropriate conduct, data management and contracting-out allegations that led to four firings last week.

The health minister announced Sept. 6 the government fired four people and suspended three without pay from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, terminated contracts worth $4 million with the University of Victoria and the University of B.C., and suspended drug and PharmaNet data access for its drug researchers.

An investigation started in May, following an anonymous tip to B.C.’s auditor general in March about contracting irregularities and inappropriate grant practices at the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, the government said.

That turned up potential conflicts of interest and inappropriate contract management and data access by external drug researchers, the government said.

B.C.’s health minister would not share any evidence or specifics about the ongoing investigation on Friday.

However, sources confirm Bob Hart, a 30-year government employee and director of data access, research and stewardship, has had his employment terminated.

Hart was originally one of three people suspended without pay — including Malcolm Maclure, a UBC professor, and Rebecca Warburton, a health economist. Maclure and Warburton are co-directors of research and evidence development in the Ministry of Health’s pharmaceutical services division.

The other four people who have been fired are: Ron Mattson, a special projects manager; David Scott, a senior researcher; Ramsay Hamdi, a senior economist; and Roderick MacIsaac, a UVic PhD student.

The total number of people the ministry of health has fired or suspended remains at seven.

Mattson, who has worked for the government since 1984 and is also a View Royal councillor, said Tuesday in a statement provided by his lawyer, Chris Siver, that he is “mystified” by the allegations and “appalled” by the way the government has treated him.

More than two months into her suspension, Warburton only learned of the details of the allegations against her on Thursday, said her lawyer, Catherine Boies Parker.

Warburton, a health economist who also works part time in UVic’s school of public administration, was suspended without pay from her position in the health ministry during the summer.

“It is our hope that the ministry concludes the investigation, that Rebecca Warburton will be fully exonerated, that she’ll be reinstated and fully reimbursed for her loses and that the ministry will take all appropriate steps to repair any damage that she suffered,” Boies Parker said.

The government has not provided evidence or details of its allegations.

“When the allegations have not been particularized to those being accused, you begin to wonder what else is going on,” Boies Parker said.

The lawyer also represents Rebecca Warburton’s husband of 32 years, Bill Warburton, a labour and health economist who had a $1-a-year contract giving him access to drug data. It was revoked early in the investigation.

His research on the impact of atypical anti-psychotic drugs on patient health and mortality has been suspended.

“This is very important research in terms of testing the claims of the companies that produce these drugs,” Boies Parker said.

MacIsaac was researching B.C.’s smoking-cessation program, which provides two prescription drugs free of charge — one of which, Champix, is the focus of a class-action suit.

Mattson and Maclure were involved in the Alzheimer’s Drug Therapy Initiative — a project involving the province, Alzheimer Society of B.C., UBC and UVic. Medication costs are covered for patients and information is collected on the effectiveness of treatments. 

Hamdi, Scott and MacIsaac are represented by the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, which is working on grievance applications in two of the cases, said union spokeswoman Karen Tankard.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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