Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Canada - Fired doctor sues B.C. Liberal government, claims interference to protect party donors

The claim was made by Dr. William Warburton, an expert in health-data research who was previously under contract with the Ministry of Health investigating the effects of atypical antipsychotic medications.

Warburton is arguing that the Ministry’s alleged wrongful termination of his contract caused him a loss of more than $100,000 and that comments attributable to MacDiarmid were made “falsely and maliciously” and amount to defamation.

None of the allegations contained in the claim’s statement of facts have been proven in court. The defendants have yet to file a statement of defence.

The court file states: “The Province's acts against Dr Warburton are part of a bad faith program by the Defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors.”

It notes that Warburton was investigating “harmful side-effects, including mortality, and risk assessment of drugs purchased by the Province through its programs,” and that his findings “had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of whom were major contributors to the Liberal Party”.

Warburton’s contract was terminated in relation to an ongoing investigation into how some ministry staff shared pharmaceutical data. According to a January 14, 2013, government media release, “personal health data was accessed for research purposes without authorization”.

That document states that none of the information in question included individuals’ names or social-insurance numbers and that “the ministry’s investigation has concluded that there is a minimal, if any, risk of inappropriate use of personal information.”

To date, the Ministry has fired seven people as a result of the investigation. Subsequently, at least three lawsuits claiming wrongful dismissal have been filed against the ministry. One of the fired researchers, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide in January, according to an article in Vancouver magazine.

In reference to that investigation, Warburton’s claim states: “The Province knew or ought to have known that its investigation was flawed, superficial, politically motivated and conducted by novice, unqualified, inexperienced investigators.”

In addition to the ministry’s termination of contracts, the B.C. Liberal government has eliminated funding for the Therapeutics Initiative, a renowned independent pharmaceutical watchdog that has operated out of UBC since 1994. On May 1, the Straight reported on what health-care workers described as a provincial clampdown on research data that amounts to a threat to public safety. That story detailed how the ministry has placed a lock on pharmaceutical data and cut researchers’ access to information that could be useful in saving lives.

The Ministry of Health and the B.C. Liberal Party did not make a representative available for an interview by deadline. In recent weeks, the Straight has made numerous requests to interview MacDiarmid with both the Health Ministry and the B.C. Liberal Party; those invitations have been refused or gone unanswered.

Warburton’s claim includes a list of pharmaceutical manufacturers that might have been affected by his findings. It names Bristol Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca Canada Inc., Eli Lilly Canada Inc., Janssen Inc., Pfizer Canada Inc., and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.

Alan Cassels, a drug-policy researcher at the University of Victoria, recently did an analysis of pharmaceutical corporations’ and drug lobby groups’ campaign donations to the B.C. Liberals and the provincial NDP. He told the Straight that he found pharmaceutical companies collectively gave more than $546,000 to the Liberals from 2005 to 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available). That number is 11 times what it is for the B.C. NDP, Cassels noted (although the NDP data covered only the years 2009 to 2012).


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