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Researcher favoured family for job: province

Oct 11 2012

B.C.'s Health Ministry alleges in court documents that a drug researcher suing for wrongful dismissal gave preferential treatment to a family member who was given a job in his division.

That document provides the first details of allegations made by the Health Ministry about a conflict of interest and privacy breach. Five ministry staff have been fired and two have been suspended without pay since an investigation was launched in May.

Malcolm Maclure, co-director of research and evidence development in the ministry's pharmaceutical services division, is one of seven people under investigation by the government for alleged inappropriate conduct, data management and contracting-out.

Maclure is suing the government for defamation and wrongful dismissal. A notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Sept. 14.

The Health Ministry says he was fired with cause.

In its response, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 5, the Health Ministry says Maclure gave "preferential treatment to his preferred candidate and member of his extended family" when his co-director was being hired.

Maclure's co-director is University of Victoria professor Rebecca Warburton. Her husband is Bill Warburton, who is related to Maclure.

Rebecca Warburton has been suspended without pay. Bill Warburton, a labour and health economist, has had revoked a $1a-year contract giving him access to drug data regarding primary care.

Bill Warburton was hired as a subcontractor by UVic on the Alzheimer's Disease Therapeutic Initiative study, but never received the ministry data, according to a source close to the investigation. The study provides drugs to Alzheimer's patients to review their effectiveness.

The government's response in court documents says Maclure disclosed confidential information to one or more third parties, facilitated or failed to prevent unauthorized access to data, and didn't comply with policies and procedures and standards of conduct around competition for research contracts.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

On Sept. 6, B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the government had given the RCMP an interim investigation report and asked them to investigate allegations of inappropriate contracting, conduct and data-management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers.

The RCMP's commercial crimes unit in Victoria has received the information but is awaiting a final report. It won't investigate unless it determines a possible criminal offence took place.

The Health Ministry has also suspended contracts worth $4 million with UVic and the University of B.C. and suspended drug and PharmaNet data access for its drug researchers. About $1 million in funding has been restored.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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