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Freedom of information in the hospital sector -- Is the government backing out?

Late last year, following contracting-out scandals at E-health, the LHINs, and the hospitals, the provincial government brought in the Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act.  The Act requires LHINs and hospitals to report annually on their use of consultants and also makes hospitals subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  as of January 1, 2012.  Once in place, records from the previous five years would be subject to freedom of information requests, the government assured us. 

But that was then.  

Apparently, the insurance industry and the Ontario Hospital Association were displeased with this turn of events.   

Recently, an amendment was introduced to the Budget bill (YES, of all things, the Budget bill). Under Schedule 15 of Bill 173, information and records provided to or prepared by a hospital committee regarding assessment of quality of care would be exempted from public access to information.  The terms of the exemption were broad and ill-defined.

Patient advocates and the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) sprung into action and pressed for change.  

Even with the very short notice provided by the government, more than a dozen groups appeared at the legislative hearings concerning the Bill to ask the members of the legislature not to pass Schedule 15.

Subsequently, government members introduced an amendment, but little or no progress was evident. Here's how the OHC responded:

“The government’s amendment allows hospital executives to make some documents secret, by simply stamping “confidential” on them or retroactively suggesting that the records were intended to be private,” said Cybele Sack of ImPatient for Change, a patient advocacy group.  “Our freedom of information laws are meant to increase transparency and this amendment undermines that spirit.”....

“The government’s proposal to extend hospital secrecy significantly undermines the government’s own Public Sector Accountability Act,” (OHC Director, Natalie Mehra) added. “It puts the onus on patients and the public to undertake lengthy and complex appeals processes to justify seeking information from hospitals. It is entirely the wrong way around. Hospitals should have to show cause to keep information secret. They are publicly-funded institutions upon which every Ontarian relies for care. They should be more publicly accountable, not less.”

We need better access to hospital information.  As trade unionists we have experienced considerable difficulty getting legitimate information from the hospitals.   

The government told us its Broader Public Sector Accountability Act would provide better access.  Now,  they have to make good on that promise and develop a better process. 

The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs will vote on amendments this Thursday morning  May 5 at 9 am, after which Bill 173 will go to the Ontario Legislature for final passage.


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