Manitoba health minister accuses doctors of ‘causing chaos’ for criticizing pandemic response

Manitoba’s health minister is accusing doctors of “causing chaos” for raising concerns with the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of 200 Manitoba doctors wrote a letter to Premier Brian Pallister on Monday, saying the health system is overwhelmed, and calling on stronger action from the province, including emergency funding to deal with the spike in cases.

“I wonder at the motivation to produce that letter, to generate it at a time when they knew it would have maximum effect in causing chaos in the system,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Tuesday afternoon.

“I know many of them. I will talk to many of them. And I get it, they’re scared. They want the best for their patients, and I absolutely agree,” Friesen said.

“Manitobans need most to understand that the people in charge have got this.”

Friesen made the comments during a health estimates committee hearing.

Monday’s letter was prompted by an alarming sense the province’s response has not been quick enough, the doctors told CBC News.

“We have watched our COVID pandemic spiral out of control,” the doctors wrote, pointing to Manitoba’s staggeringly high test positivity rate. “Mathematical modelling from jurisdictions around the world showing we are in grave peril.”

As of Tuesday evening, the letter had drawn 350 signatures from doctors.

The plea came three days after another group of more than a dozen doctors wrote an open letter to Pallister and Friesen, asking for a provincewide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Doctors ‘motivated by saving lives’: Kinew

NDP leader Wab Kinew slammed Friesen for the comments, posting a link to the video on Twitter Tuesday evening.

“That the minister of health would question the motivations of Manitoba doctors, who put their lives on the line every day, is more than disrespectful. It’s an attempt to undermine confidence in our front line health workers,” Kinew wrote in a statement to CBC News.

“Manitoba doctors and nurses are motivated by saving lives. The doctors who signed this letter took a serious professional risk to speak out against government inaction because of their commitment to protecting Manitobans.”

CBC News has reached out to the health minister for reaction to the criticism.

When asked about the letter on Monday, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said he appreciated the doctors’ comments.

Lanette Siragusa, the chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said she didn’t see the letter and said the doctors didn’t talk to her about it.

CBC News has reached out to a number of the doctors who penned Monday’s letter for response.

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