Health Minister Adrian Dix (Black Press)

HEALTH CARE

B.C. set to close ‘gaps’ in ministry research six years after health researcher firings

Rigorous testing of drugs, move towards team-based health care among new measures taken

The province is launching a new evidence-based healthcare research strategy stemming from 35 ombudsman recommendations into the 2012 firings of eight ministry researchers.

“It’s the first time in decades that the Ministry of Health has had a research strategy,” health minister Adrian Dix said during Thursday’s announcement.

The strategy directly addresses two recommendations in the ombudsman report.

“It asked the Ministry of Health to respond to the considerable research gaps that were created during the firings of health ministry employees and the subsequent impact of that on the Ministry of Health,” said Dix.

The new strategy will ensure that “every decision we make is guided by the evidence,” Dix said, calling the move “a cultural change” for government.

“Part of that challenge is making sure that ….researchers and health care workers have access to [health ministry] data… in real time,” said Dix.

Dix said that the province was looking to move away from starting patients off with a family doctor who would then refer them to a hospital or specialist and instead move towards team-based care.

One of the new initiatives, dubbed HEALTHWISER, “will give the ministry the capacity to do early and ongoing evaluation” of prescription drugs, policies and initiatives.

The ministry will work with the Therapeutics Initiative, which is receiving $2 million in funding, on a better drug evaluation program.

The ministry needs to improve its “independent evaluation of prescription drugs, both before they come onto the market and after they come onto the market” said Dix.

He cited his own use of a recently-approved insulin that had only been tested for a short period of time.

“The trial took place in a matter of months but I will be using insulin for decades,” Dix said.

Asked about the province’s recent battles with patients who need expensive, life saving drugs for rare diseases, Dix said that the problem was not necessarily with the province’s drug approval process.

“Right now what we’re seeing is an attempt to make massive profits off the backs of people with rare diseases,” he said.

UBC student Shantee Anaquod spent weeks in a back-and-forth with the province over their initial refusal to cover a $750,000 per year drug named Soliris.

The province approved the drug on a case-by-case basis in mid-November and green lit the drug for Anaquod specifically the following day.

The ombudsman 2015 report stemmed from the firing of health ministry researchers in 2012, which Dix said shook health ministry employees’ “sense of who they were and what they were doing.”

The then-Liberal government fired eight researchers who were assessing drugs for eligibility under the province’s Pharmacare program.

At the time, the health ministry had said that a confidential database of B.C. patients who had taken various drugs had been misused, and some of the researchers appeared to have conflicts of interest.

As a result of the firings, one contractor committed suicide, another sued the government for wrongful dismissal and the rest were paid settlements and reinstated.

READ: Cash, apologies coming for fired health researchers


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