One of seven people dismissed by the B.C. government for allegedly breaching privacy and conflict-of-interest rules says no health data were ever transferred and privacy was never breached.
In a statement to the Times Colonist, Ron Mattson - a View Royal councillor - said he's mystified by his dismissal.
Mattson, who has worked for the government since 1984, was employed as project manager for the Alzheimer's Drug Therapy Initiative. Under the initiative - a joint project involving the provincial government, Alzheimer Society of B.C., University of B.C. and University of Victoria - medication costs are covered for patients with Alzheimer's disease and information is collected on the treatments' effectiveness.
"I am shocked that the government would mention conflict of interest, inappropriate contract management and data access, and having contacted the RCMP in the same press release in which they announced my dismissal when I have done nothing wrong," he wrote.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry fired Mattson; David Scott, a senior researcher in the analysis branch; Ramsay Hamdi, a senior economist in the utilization health care and risk management branch; and an unidentified co-op student. Hamdi, Scott and the student are represented by the B.C. Government Employees Union.
The government suspended without pay Bob Hart, the director of data access, research and stewardship; Malcolm Maclure, a UBC professor; and Rebecca Warburton, a UVic professor. Maclure and Warburton are co-directors of research and evidence development in the Ministry of Health's pharmaceutical services division.
The government also suspended data access and contracts worth $4 million with the University of Victoria and the University of B.C.
The government has not released to the public any specific details or evidence from its investigation. It has not revealed names or positions ofthose disciplined, or the type of medical research involved in the case.
B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said last week it appeared "individuals have gone outside of the rules" and taken data - including personal information - approved for use in one type of drug research and used them in other research without permission.
"There is clear legislation and policy in this area and the way that data research is to be done and the way contracts are to be managed, and we believe those rules, regulations and legislation have not been followed," MacDiarmid said.
The investigation relates to the Alzheimer's Drug Therapy Initiative and a $2.4-million contract awarded directly to UVic, according to Mattson. "That is what I was questioned about. The direct contract award to the University of Victoria of a $2.4-million contract was approved of by senior ministry staff well above my pay grade."
Mattson said he doesn't have a conflict of interest.
Rebecca Warburton and her husband of 32 years, Bill Warburton, are both economists in evidence-based health policy research. The couple's relationship is well-known and, according to a source involved in the case, well-disclosed. Bill Warburton, a consultant, was requested to be among those allowed to use the data if all approvals were in place, according to a source.
"I have never given out any data to the university under this contract," Mattson said. "I was arranging to do so if all required approvals could be obtained."
The data, had they been given out, would have had identifying information removed, Mattson said.
The health data never went to UVic, never mind a potential subcontractor, said Mattson's lawyer, Christopher A. Siver of Mulroney and Company. "We are not aware that any data was released, and any data that would have been released would have been anonymized, so what privacy breach?" Siver said.
The government says Mattson's alleged transgression leading to his dismissal occurred after its investigation began in May, following an anonymous tip to B.C.'s auditor general last March about contracting irregularities and inappropriate grant practices at the ministry's pharmaceutical services division.
Mattson said he never had access to data, noting he applied for approval to ensure anyone the university wanted to work on the data would be listed as approved.
"This is appalling treatment for someone who has faithfully served the province of B.C. for 27 years," he said.
The government has asked the RCMP to investigate. The RCMP says it is reviewing the information and no formal investigation is underway.
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