Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

The Search for Accountability in Canadian Health Care




According to the Canadian Adverse Events Study (2004), an estimated 185,000 hospital admissions are associated with adverse events each year resulting in the deaths of 24,000 Canadians annually. Around 70,000 of these adverse events are deemed to be preventable.

You’ve gone to the hospital for emergency medical treatment or surgery. You suffer an adverse event that leaves you with grievous injuries.  How will you find out what really happened? Who is accountable? Who will help you?

Patients are often encouraged to discuss their complaints concerning a hospital with a Quality Care Coordinator or Client Representative usually found at the regional or provincial/territorial level. Formal complaints against a doctor can be made to the College of Physicians and Surgeons within a province/territory. A patient may also wish to consult with legal counsel to file a medical malpractice claim. All of these complaint mechanisms are limited by various factors.

Most, if not all, client representatives are employees of the provincial/territorial government and must meet the needs of their employer. Many of the case reviews performed by professional self-regulating bodies often result in educational recommendations to their members. Anyone who has considered filing a legal claim soon discovers that most doctors are members of the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). The CMPA is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to promote the professional integrity of doctors and safer medical care in Canada. The legal and financial resources that the CMPA is able to offer each of its members is unmatched. In 2008, their assets were estimated to be $2.43 billion.

Victims of medical malpractice quickly learn that their legal options are limited by the severity of their injuries and their financial resources. It takes a number of years for a case to proceed through the courts and if the decision is in favour of the defendant doctor then you must also pay for their legal fees. Your injuries must be severe enough to insure that the amount of compensation being sought will cover your legal and medical bills. An interesting fact to note is that many provincial/territorial governments subsidize the fees doctors’ pay to belong to the CMPA which means that your own tax dollars are being used to fund the defendant’s case against you.

The CMPA’s 2008 Annual Report indicates that 884 legal cases commenced in Canada last year with only 88 of these proceeding to trial where only 13 judgements were found in favour of the (patient) plaintiff. There were 574 cases abandoned or dismissed and 341 settled.

What does all of this mean for you as a patient? If you experience an adverse event in one of our hospitals you will enter yet another labyrinth of government bureaucracy where you will eventually tire from your search for accountability. Along the way you will hear talk about “mandatory reporting”, “disclosure” and “apology” legislation and policies and will find excuses but no answers. You will have trouble finding a lawyer to represent you due to the legal and financial resources required for a medical malpractice claim. If you succeed in finding legal representation then be prepared to dedicate several years and at least $100,000 towards your legal claim and, depending on the courts, you may still end up without any compensation. These are some of the realities facing patients in our Canadian health care system.

Information on accountability in our health care system is scarce. The Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN), a social policy think tank, has  published a series of papers under the research area titled “Strengthening Accountability in the Canadian Health Care System”. The complexity of our system and its lack of accountability to the public are evident throughout the series. The CPRN was to prepare a final report that would provide specific recommendations for our health care system. This report, to date, is incomplete.

Pictured above is the stack of letters I’ve received during my search for accountability.  Where do you find accountability in the Canadian health care system?

Please let me know.


5 Responses to “The Search for Accountability in Canadian Health Care”
  1. marina white says:

    I had a son who was being treated in hospital for injuries sustained in a M/V accident in 2000. The attending nurses dropped him out of bed and he sustained another brain injury. The hospital staff tried to hide it and lied when I found out about it. Alot has been going since….a horror story along with many others that need to be told and made public. I would like to tell you more

    • admin says:

      Hello Marina,
      Thank you for your comment. I am sorry, but not surprised, to hear about your experience with our health care system. We would like to hear more of your story. Perhaps you could tell us your son’s first name, how you came to learn the truth about his adverse event, where your search for accountability has taken you and any lessons you’ve learned along the way that may be helpful to others in a similar situation. You can share more details of your story by sending them to heather@thepatientfactor.com

  2. Hydra says:

    Was a victim of a cover up at a hospital. I was refused medical help when returned back to hospital shorty after a LP that was done in the ER.
    Hospital was covering up that fact I had septecemia and then Meningitis. Only in Canada could they get away with this kind of thing. Patients are not safe in any way..
    Illegal things are covered up.. Patients are then blacklisted from care and refused medical tests to conceal damage even at private clinics.
    Concealing damage is another little thing we need to worry about because it makes it impossible for an injured patient to sue and concealment can go on for years. Another tactic used against us.

  3. Leni Pearce says:

    MDs, particularly specialists, have entirely too much power and are far too well-protected from being made accountable for their actions. You must take great care to get yourself independently informed before agreeing to any kind of treatment, particularly if it is invasive, because it is you, and you alone, who will live with the consequences of whatever is done.

    Ten years ago, a surgical oncologist manipulated and deceived me to get me to accept treatment—the ultimate form of medical paternalism! Because he lied to me, I was unable to make an informed choice. I believe he did this because I stated that I would rather die than be mutilated and disfigured, so he told me that the surgery would be minimal, that there would only be a tiny scar and no disfigurement. He then grossly over-treated me for a miniscule tumour of the lowest grade. A friend who had a Grade 3 tumour was treated in a different facility and had less draconic treatment than I did for a tiny low-grade tumour with which I might have died of old age had it been left untreated. This dishonest and manipulative surgeon left me with gross disfigurement, chronic pain from nerve damage, and a greatly reduced quality of life.

    I have done a tremendous amount of research into cancer and its treatment since all this happened. Not all cancers are life-threatening—In fact, a great many of them are not. Cancer is a very complicated subject. It is also a huge and highly profitable industry. Do your own, independent research before accepting any kind of treatment, even though it is a lot of work and means investing in a library card to get access to medical libraries and the journals to which they subscribe. Don’t let yourself be panicked and rushed into treatment. Most cancers move slowly, and you have time to do extensive research. If you are unfortunate enought to have one of the highly malignant, fast-moving cancers, your best optionis to make what remains of your life as good and as comfortable as possible, rather than suffer the horrors and torture of conventional cancer treatment. Had I known back then what I know now, I would have been spared a tremendous amount of suffering and endless regret!


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  1. [...] there will likely be no accountability for the events. I’ve talked about the search for accountability in our health care system in a previous post. Vann’s case is not unique but rather commonplace [...]

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