Local doctors concerned over B.C.'s new bill to regulate health professions

New bill worries doctors

Local healthcare professionals are criticizing B.C.'s newly passed legislation that will make sweeping changes to how health colleges in the province are regulated.

Kelowna physician Dr. Joshua Nordine says Bill 36, the Health Professions and Occupations Act, was “rammed through” the legislature in November, with little consultation with those in the professions that will be impacted.

The new law, which has yet to go into effect, will consolidate the number of B.C.'s health colleges (regulators) from 15 to six. The colleges' boards will now be wholly appointed by the government, while they were previously partially populated by people who'd been elected by those in the profession.

The colleges will be monitored by a new oversight body and the complaints process is being reformed, with an independent discipline tribunal.

Nordine, along with Kelowna dentist Trevor Morhaliek, spoke with Castanet about their concerns with the new legislation, and they say they've heard from many other colleagues who feel the same. But of even more concern to them, is many of their colleagues and patients haven't even heard of Bill 36. One of the issues Nordine has with the new system is the changing of the complaints process.

“If something goes through an investigation process, we now have to run to lawyers and get affidavits,” he said. “It's no longer good enough to say 'this is what happened from my version of events and here is the chart and everything else' ... it's going to burden down any sort of complaint process.”

He also is concerned about how the new disciplinary tribunal will be publicly publishing all findings of misconduct.

“They'll publish their veneered account of things,” Nordine said. “It's their veneered version of events, all findings are going to be published ... It's a very top-down approach, very bureaucratic.”

Speaking on the new bill last week, Health Minister Adrian Dix called the publishing of misconduct findings a “reasonable step,” and noted that complaints on their own will not be made public, only findings of wrongdoing.

Nordine also says that by amalgamating a number of different colleges together, the college won't be able to adequately represent the members properly.

But Dix defended the bill last week, noting the colleges are meant to represent the public interest, not the profession. He said appointing college board members will help in regulating the profession impartially.

Nordine says he disagrees with that premise entirely, and says he's never seen boards under the current system fail to act in the public's interest.

“The whole theory of 'well the college board is in the pocket of its members' is not true at all, if you talk to any healthcare profession,” Nordine said. “The whole premise of 'we need to protect the public' is a bit flawed.

“I can't think of any situation where the college has represented its members more than the public.”

Morhaliek says the bill has effectively removed the profession's ability to self-regulate itself.

"We would elect the members so we'd have health professionals in those disciplines on those boards that understand the profession they're dealing with," Morhaliek said. "The government now determines what the conditions are and what is best and not best, and these are not doctors, these are not chiropractors, these are not dentists, these are bureaucrats.

"It can politicize healthcare, and that's really worrying, because that is going to affect patient care."

Nordine notes there's already an appeal process in place for patients who are unhappy with a college's decision on a complaint.

“What they've done, is they've created a fake crisis with the Health Professions Act and they've reworked everything,” Nordine said. “And it's not just my generation of doctors, it's going to be for the next 200 years, 300 years. And they've done it with such last-minute urgency, there's been no accountability to the bill itself.”

Nordine and Morhaliek are not alone in criticizing the new bill. In a message to B.C. doctors from earlier this month, President of Doctors BC Dr. Joshua Greggain said he's “heard [doctors] concerns about Bill 36.”

“Doctors of BC has been and is continuing to meet with other health care professional associations to discuss next steps,” Greggain said.

“Doctors of BC will also be meeting with the Ministry of Health to advocate on your behalf and ensure they understand your concerns. We will continue to engage with you on this important issue."

Ultimately, Nordine says B.C.'s healthcare system is facing so many other issues already that this new bill doesn't address.

“I think healthcare is so broken in this province that people won't have the ability to focus on this bill, because they're so busy trying to find a family doctor, because they're so busy trying to access care, access investigations, access labs,” he said. “You can't focus on all the problems because there's so many other problems ... It's going from bad to worse.”

Morhaliek adds the new system could also force healthcare professionals from the province who are put off by the legislation.

"There'll be a loss of even more workers [in] a system that's already collapsing. I like to say it's like the final nail in the coffin," Morhaliek said. "Why they're doing this, I don't understand. It doesn't make sense."

Nordine says he'll abide by whatever the guidelines from the college end up being, but he wants to highlight the concerns he has about the changes.

“I'm not trying to be radical in what I'm saying, but what I'm saying, there's a lot of people saying it,” he said.

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