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Transparency required in physicians’ oversight

By the time Arcel Bissonnette was banned from practising medicine less than two years ago, the former Ste. Anne, Manitoba physician was already facing multiple charges of sexual assault, some connected to alleged incidents dating back to 2004.

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Opinion

By the time Arcel Bissonnette was banned from practising medicine less than two years ago, the former Ste. Anne, Manitoba physician was already facing multiple charges of sexual assault, some connected to alleged incidents dating back to 2004.

Almost two years before Mr. Bissonnette was arrested by police and charged on Nov. 5, 2020, with six counts of sexual assault, a complaint against him was brought to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba. The college is prohibited from releasing information about a complaint or a subsequent investigation (only the results of a final disciplinary decision are made public).

Instead, a condition was placed on Mr. Bissonnette’s licence that required a female chaperone to be in the room when he examined female patients. Mr. Bissonnette, who now faces 22 charges of sexual assault after more allegations surfaced, was also required to post a notice in his practice outlining the conditions of his licence.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
The College of Physicians and Surgeons must do a better job of holding physicians accountable when they are found guilty of professional misconduct.

It raises the question: if Mr. Bissonnette could not be trusted to perform certain types of exams without someone looking over his shoulder, why was he allowed to practise medicine at all? If the complaint against him was sufficiently serious to warrant such an extreme intervention, one might conclude he should not have been permitted to see any patients.

This is not an isolated case, as a recent Free Press investigative series on physician oversight has uncovered. It is not uncommon for physicians facing complaints to have conditions placed on their licence following allegations of professional misconduct. Many are also required to post notices informing patients of those conditions, leaving it up to patients to decipher their meaning.

Shamoon Hasham Din had his physician’s licence revoked June 2 after failing to comply with conditions that a female chaperone be present when treating female patients. He also reportedly created false and misleading medical records and treated pediatric patients when he was not permitted to do so. The conditions on his licence stemmed from misconduct that occurred in 2020-21; however, he was also temporarily suspended in 2018 after an inappropriate relationship with a teen patient.

Robert Zoppa had his physician’s licence revoked in March after multiple counts of professional misconduct dating back to 2010, including having sexual relations with two female patients and prescribing drugs to patients while keeping some for personal use. The former Selkirk family doctor also breached the conditions of his licence before it was revoked.

Former Winnipeg doctor Naseer Ahmed Warraich lost his right to practise medicine in July 2021, but not before he was given multiple warnings and second and third chances over a 15-year period to clean up his act. Mr. Warraich was suspended for two months in 2006 for professional misconduct, including for co-signing prescriptions for patients in the United States whom he had not seen. More recently, he billed Manitoba Health for examinations of patients in nursing homes he had not seen and failed to maintain a standard of care. Mr. Warraich also had conditions on his licence, including a requirement that a medical supervisor oversee his practice.

ANDREW HARRER / BLOOMBERG FILES
It is not uncommon for physicians facing complaints in Manitoba to have conditions placed on their licence following allegations of professional misconduct.

As an oversight body, the CPSM must do a better job of holding physicians accountable when they are found guilty of professional misconduct. There is too much secrecy around complaints against doctors. A review of how the college conducts investigations and how it imposes disciplinary action on its members is long overdue.

That review should include an overhaul of the provincial Regulated Health Professions Act to make the process more open and transparent. Patient safety should be the primary objective under the act. Right now, it more often seems the interests of medical practitioners take precedence.

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