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Selby must apologize, give answers

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Manitoba Health Minister Erin Selby

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Health Minister Erin Selby has made an outrageous allegation against the opposition Tories in attempting to deflect scrutiny of her $5.4-billion department's spending program. Ms. Selby believes the Progressive Conservatives, while in government, swept "under the rug" the abject failure in Manitoba's former pediatric heart surgery program, allowing "12 babies to die."

The minister needs to explain herself and owes an apology to health critic Myrna Driedger and to the parents who lived through the unparalleled tragedy at the Health Sciences Centre in 1994.

An inquest report, compiled by then-associate chief provincial judge Murray Sinclair, laid the blame for nine of the 12 deaths that were or might have been preventable squarely at the feet of the HSC and its surgical program, which hired a young, cocksure but inexperienced Jonah Odim and then effectively left him alone to wreak havoc. None of the findings traced the catastrophe that unfolded to the Health Department or the minister's office. What, then, is Ms. Selby talking about?

Judge Sinclair did not report until 2000 -- a full year after the Tories were out of government. His findings called for overturning the prevailing medical culture that set doctors on pedestals, demeaned and dismissed the value of nurses and gave little respect to the concept of informed consent, effectively leading parents to blindly hand over their babies to a physician who abused his power to fatal effect.

It was the NDP's job to implement the recommendations, including a system to report and investigate medical errors, dubbed critical incidents. Ms. Selby, asked in the legislature about the age of the helicopter used by STARS, noted it was her government that passed "critical care" legislation for reporting errors. Then she castigated Ms. Driedger, accusing her party of ignoring problems and allowing 12 babies to die.

It was one of many non sequiturs in a series of senseless evasions of valid questions. First, as Ms. Driedger asked, why has Manitoba's helicopter ambulance attended a fraction of the emergencies it was projected to meet? Ms. Selby refused to say. And why does the Healthy Living section within Manitoba Health have its own budget and minister? Ms. Selby made clear she could neither explain nor account for Healthy Living's spending plans.

Is the minister hiding something or simply unequipped to meet the basic test of ministerial accountability? The department spending the biggest chunk of tax dollars must be led by one with a good grasp of the concept of ministerial responsibility. Ms. Selby should immediately apologize. And answer Ms. Driedger's legitimate questions.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2014 A6

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