‘Profound dysfunction’ in health-care system the fault of PC government, physician decrying red tape alleges

A Manitoba physician says the “profound dysfunction” in the health-care system has been engineered by the current provincial government — and it may lead to the departure of a young doctor taking specialized training.

Dr. Dan Roberts penned a column in the Winnipeg Free Press, published Tuesday, which decried the bureaucracy he says is hampering medical professionals from proposing solutions to what ails the health-care system.

“People that I worked with for years and respected seem resigned to participate in these charades. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard: “I’ve done all I can” or “It’s in (another silo),” Roberts wrote.

“Those who can’t endure the sheer moral injury quietly resign and those who protest get reassigned.”

His column was cited in question period Tuesday by the Opposition New Democrats as another sign the Progressive Conservatives have mismanaged health care.

The NDP has promised to cut administration costs at Shared Health, which the Tories created in 2018 to co-ordinate health-care service delivery and planning across the province.

“What Dr. Dan Roberts is highlighting is something that I think most of us in Manitoba understand, which is that under the PCs there’s just too much bureaucracy in health-care that’s getting in the way of trying to fix some of the problems that would help things for you, the patient,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Waiting months for resources: Roberts

Roberts, the acting head of neurology at Health Sciences Centre, said in his newspaper column these headaches may  result in a doctor leaving.

Last July, he said a resident doctor was sent away to specialize in neuro-ophthalmology to learn about brain-related visual problems. The doctor was set to return this July.

Before he left, Roberts said he put together a “carefully identified, vetted and costed” proposal for $100,000 worth of equipment, a couple of rooms, a receptionist and a part-time medical photographer.

More than nine months later, Roberts has yet to receive approvals.

His request was shifted in March from Shared Health to the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force. The task force is now undertaking its own due diligence, and so is Misericordia Health Centre, where this physician would work, Roberts said.

exterior, Health Sciences Centre.
The acting head of neurology at Health Sciences Centre said he’s been waiting more than nine months to get the resources needed for a new specialist. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He said the doctor is deeply frustrated and is now looking for another job.

“This kind of situation, repeated again and again, illustrates the profound dysfunction that has been engineered into our health-care system by this government,” he wrote.

Roberts said the bureaucracy is structured into too many silos: the health department within the Manitoba government, Shared Health, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the surgical task force.

Any proposals to address wait list or manpower issues can languish for six months to two years, he says based on his personal experience, “in a cycle of buck-passing interrupted by demands for revisions and clarifications.”

Roberts said he wasn’t available Tuesday for an interview.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Roberts’ proposal is being examined.

“I certainly don’t agree that the physician in question’s proposal has been stuck. There is a process. That process is being followed. It is under review and a decision is forthcoming.”

Gordon, however, acknowledged processes could be streamlined to ensure proposals are examined as quickly as possible. It was a message she said she relayed Tuesday in her first meeting with Shared Health’s new leader, Lanette Siragusa.

Gordon disagreed with Roberts that proposals from private businesses seem to only require a “wink and a nod or perhaps a special handshake.”

Private health-care options do not receive preferential treatment, she said.

“Due diligence is being done to ensure that the proposal meets the needs of our health-care system.”

A Shared Health spokesperson said a lot of time must be spent on assessing each proposal, including verifying the need, determining where it fits within the health system’s existing offerings and how best to implement the proposals once approved.

Speaking out as a last resort

In the last few years, Roberts has spoken out against health-care issues under the Tory government.

He last commented publicly in a Winnipeg Free Press letter to the editor in April, when he argued provincial efforts to cut wait lists for surgeries and other medical procedures are too heavily focused on sending patients out of province, rather than funding local treatment options.

At the time, he said speaking out was the only way to get the resources he needed. Within two weeks of holding a news conference last year to warn the MS clinic was on the “verge of collapse” due to a lack of specialists, he wrote the government “miraculously approved” all of his requests.

In his Tuesday column, Roberts said the government doesn’t “seem to mind public humiliation. They must be convinced the public either won’t care or won’t remember.

“I hope, for all your sakes, that they are wrong.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont disputed the NDP’s position that some bureaucracy jobs need to be eliminated. Lamont said a number of areas, ranging from human resources to procurement, are short-staffed.

He alleged the public health system has been thinned out at the expense of private partners.

“The idea that we’re going to solve this by cutting more is dangerous,” Lamont said in a scrum with reporters. 

[Former PC premier] “Brian Pallister said exactly the same thing: ‘We’re going to take from the top and get to the front line.’ It didn’t happen then and it won’t happen now. We need more stability, not more huge amounts of change.”

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