Well, somebody thought there was queue jumping, that’s for sure!

Your blogger with Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, the former Conservative Parliamentary Secretary for Health. Below: Former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett.

In other medical news, Alberta seems to be suffering an epidemic of mild memory loss. Not just Alberta, either. The problem has cropped up Down Under as well!

The Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry, known to most Albertans as the Queue-Jumping Inquiry or words to that effect, completed its second day in Edmonton yesterday with a couple of star witnesses on the stand – or whatever the stand called when it isn’t technically speaking at a judicial inquiry and the judge running it doesn’t actually work as a judge any more.

Answering the commission counsel’s gentle questions yesterday were former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, testifying by a rather disconcertingly out-of-sync video link from his office in Melbourne, Australia, a box of cookies on display behind him on the credenza; and Dr. David Megran, who once upon a time worked for Dr. Duckett and is now chief medical officer for clinical operations at AHS.

Back in 2009 before Dr. Duckett became the first health care CEO to be fired for waving a cookie at a reporter, the Australian PhD economist and Dr. Megran co-authored a memorandum that suggested the practice of queue jumping by well-connected Albertans was “not uncommon” in the province’s public health system.

This seems to have been the jumping-off point for the provincial government’s plan to hold a $10-million inquiry into lineup leapfrogging. This is odd when you think about it, because what everybody was demanding back in February 2011 was a judicial inquiry into the intimidation and bullying of health professionals. Alas, that topic is beyond the purview of this affair.

Regardless, on a couple of occasions after he was fired, one in a farewell speech to his troops in Edmonton and the other at a health care conference in Toronto, Dr. Duckett dropped the additional bombshell that there were “go-to guys” or “Mr. Fix-Its” in the system whose job it was to help MLAs get their favourite constituents discreetly moved up the waiting lists that seemed to be plaguing the health care system at the time.

But in the event, neither Dr. Megran, who testified in the morning before retired judge John Vertes, or Dr. Duckett, who testified in the afternoon (although it was still morning in Melbourne) could remember very much.

They did remember working together on the memo in May 2009, but according to the Edmonton Journal couldn’t quite recall who started the ball rolling. Dr. Megran thought Dr. Duckett asked him to write it; Dr. Duckett seemed to think Dr. Megran brought it up.

Dr. Megran said he had no knowledge whatsoever of any preferential or expedited care. He admitted it was an odd statement to make if he was not aware of the issue. But he explained that he was working many hours a week in those days. He may have “succumbed to confusion” about requests for preferential care versus common requests for information about how to navigate the health system, he said. “I don’t recollect my actual thought processes.”

Dr. Duckett indicated that while he was aware of the problem, he was never moved to ask about the names of the offending MLAs. “I wasn’t particularly interested in witch hunts.”

Moreover, Dr. Duckett remembered, he had heard a number of MLAs were unhappy about that the practice of having a go-to guy was ended, but he only heard about it from other people. “I didn’t have the names. I didn’t seek the names. What I was keen to do was stop the practice,” he explained.

Could he recall the name of any MLA, the commission’s council wondered. Well, yes! Raj Sherman.

Dr. Sherman, alert readers will recall, was then a Conservative insider. Now he is the leader of the provincial Liberal Party in the Legislature. He also has worked as an Emergency Room physician, so he’s familiar with waiting lists.

Well, Dr. Sherman told me later, he was unhappy that the go-to person for MLAs had been eliminated, but his concern had nothing at all to do with preferential treatment. “The MLAs needed a point-person to talk to, it’s true. But the issue of preferential access, that was never a focus of our concern.”

“The waiting list never came up,” he said. “The words ‘Mr. Fix-It’ never came up.”

“This is why I’ve always said this is not what this inquiry should be focused on,” said Dr. Sherman, who will testify on Dec. 13, the inquiry’s last day in Edmonton.

The inquiry will resume in Calgary in January. It is to hear today from Dr. Paul Parks, the Medicine Hat medico who in 2010 as head of the Alberta Medical Association’s emergency medicine section catalogued the shocking state of Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital Emergency Ward through 2008 and 2009.

So we are left with this: The practice of queue jumping was said to be deeply ingrained in the system. The memo discussed at the inquiry yesterday said to refer all requests to Dr. Duckett himself. He says he never received any requests.

So we are left to wonder: Can he really imagine the practice ended with a single memorandum?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

3 Comments on "Well, somebody thought there was queue jumping, that’s for sure!"

  1. sassy says:

    Obviously a distraction to cover up the real problems in the health system. It seems Duckett is working with the Conservatives to muddy the waters, especially since the Liberal leader is named – way too obvious. And we’re spending $10 million on this nonsense?

  2. K. Larsen says:

    You keep describing the Alberta Medical Association as “the province’s most powerful trade union.” Powerful it may be, but what kind of union would insist, as the AMA does, that its members be paid on the basis of piece work?

    Aren’t workers paid on a piece work basis in third world sweat shops?

    Of course one of the characteristics of unions is their democratic structure, so what does this say about the dedication of the doctors’ union to quality assurance?

  3. jerrymacgp says:

    Stephen Duckett, PhD, was an unrestrained artillery piece when he headed up AHS, and we are all better off being rid of him. Rumour and innuendo are not good foundations for the formulation of policy, and it is looking like this is exactly what his famous “no queue-jumping” memo is all about. Show us the evidence that any queue-jumping based on influence was happening.

    It is perfectly reasonable that senior health executives are given a “heads-up” when high-profile individuals are patients in a hospital, in order to ensure that there is oversight on issues of privacy and security; just look at the Duchess of Cambridge’s most recent experience in the UK for an example of what can go wrong. This does not mean that VIPs are being put ahead of others in the queue; just that the press and the nutbars don’t care if Bill Smith the plumber is having surgery, but it might care if Jane Jones the MLA is. Maybe if Jane Jones’s profile is high enough (maybe she is Premier or something), she shouldn’t be kept waiting in a public waiting room in the ER, even if her problem is of less urgency; she can wait her turn in a private area, for security reasons.

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