Manitoba doctor discipline process takes ‘good baby step’
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2022 (214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After repeated criticism of its secretive handling of physician misconduct, Manitoba’s doctor watchdog now posts information about upcoming discipline hearings on its website.
It’s a move critics say is welcome, if not long overdue, but one that still provides too little information about the accused due to “very poorly written” legislation governing the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.
The information now posted on the college’s website states when a hearing will take place and basic information about what it involves, but not the physician’s name. Previously, such hearings were technically public but often flew under the radar as the college did not actively share details online.
“It’s long overdue but this is a good baby step toward some degree of public accountability,” said Brandon Trask, an assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba.
However, Trask questions how useful it is to make hearing information public if important details such as the doctor’s name remain protected. The one new post on the college’s website only states a hearing will be heard Nov. 8 regarding “the conduct of a former registrant, including in respect to their fitness and professionalism.”
The Regulated Health Professions Act, which governs the college, states no identifying information, including the business name or location, can be released until the disciplinary panel makes a finding of guilt or otherwise takes further action against the member.
It’s not clear if the public will be informed if the college finds the unnamed member not guilty. The college did not respond to a follow-up question.
These privacy restrictions could lead to incomplete investigations, Trask said.
Because the college does not make critical information public, other potential victims might not have the chance to come forward until after a ruling. If no ruling is made, the public remains in the dark.
Trask said the less transparent the college is, the less confidence the public will have in its ability to adjudicate cases appropriately.
“Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done,” he said. “The built-in secrecy coming into the process from the RHPA does a disservice to the public.”
Trask is calling on the province to amend the act, which he describes as “very poorly written,” and allow names of physicians charged with professional misconduct to be publicized. Any publication bans should be the exception, not the rule, he said.
The province will not say if it is considering updating the legislation, nor will the college say if it supports a change pertaining to publication bans.
For months, the Free Press has been investigating how the college handles cases of misconduct.
Advocates for survivors of sexual violence and legal and health-care experts have called on the province to update legislation to make the college more transparent. Critics have said the current system puts physicians’ interests over patient safety and survivors of sexual assault say patients need to know if their doctor is facing serious complaints.
The secrecy surrounding physician discipline is in contrast with how things work for lawyers in Manitoba and physicians in other provinces. The names of lawyers facing hearings before the Law Society of Manitoba are made public, while the names of Ontario doctors facing discipline hearings — and the details of the allegations — are also published.
“Why would Manitoba physicians need greater protection than Ontario physicians?” said Paul Harte, an Ontario medical malpractice lawyer.
Harte said banning publication “effectively guts the notion that these hearings are open to the public” and “dramatically reduces transparency and accountability.”
“Absent an order protecting the identity of the complainant, the media should be free to report on public hearings and report on the same information that a member of the public attending the hearings would hear,” he said. “This provision is yet a further example of the college putting its members’ interests ahead of the public interest.”
The fact the Manitoba college has decided to hold a hearing “should be sufficient evidence of a concern to warrant publication of the name of the member,” Harte said, noting the college investigates cases before sending them to discipline hearings, and would not prosecute frivolous complaints.
If the discipline hearing results in no action, Harte said, is also “important information that the public is entitled to know.”
Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.