Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons drags heels on openness

Posted on in Health Debates

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Feb 04 2013.

After a two-month battle, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons yields to pressure to reveal the names of unsafe health-care clinics.

It’s taken two months of prodding, a direct order from the government and a long series of meetings, consultations and legal manoeuvres, but the identity of nine taxpayer-funded health clinics that failed recent safety inspections is finally out in the open.

This is a welcome development, despite the pressure it took to produce it. Ontarians will now be able to check online before deciding where to go for cataract surgery, a colonoscopy, liposuction or pain management.

But the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, which performs the inspections, is still withholding some information. It has agreed to post the outcomes of its inspections of the province’s 251 privately run health clinics, as of Jan. 31, 2013. But the college will not name clinics that have failed in the past, no matter how serious the infraction. Prospective patients have a right to know if there are blots on a clinic’s record.

“We’re proud of our work on transparency,” the college’s president Eric Stanton said, after the self-regulating body passed a bylaw allowing it to identify the clinics.

He and his members may be the only ones proud of the college’s grudging decision to lift the veil of secrecy. “Relieved” would be more appropriate for health-care users.

This is the latest chapter in a three-year story. In 2010, Health Minister Deb Matthews entrusted the task of protecting Ontarians from clinics with unqualified staff, inadequate infection control and deficient equipment to the doctors’ organization. It said the Regulated Health Professions Act prohibited it from telling Ontarians which of the provinces’s 251 clinics were providing substandard care, whether they were still open and what disciplinary action had been taken. Health-care lawyers disputed this interpretation of the 21-year-old act.

After the Star published a series of stories and Matthews made it clear she expected openness, the college said it would consider a bylaw allowing it to release the names of the clinics that had failed to pass inspection. Last week, its 32-member council enacted such a bylaw.

It should not be this difficult to wrench information out of an organization that is supposed to protect the health of the public. The patronizing attitude of the College of Physicians and Surgeons is out of step with the times and the government’s commitment to promote patient-centred health care.

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