A health economist connected to the Health Ministry’s investigation into privacy breach allegations that have resulted in seven ministry employees being fired says the whole situation is bizarre.
“I feel a little persecuted. I have to say it’s weird,” said Bill Warburton in an interview.
“I’ve worked for government for more than 20 years and I have certainly never seen anything like this before. It’s just strange.”
The firings have happened since May, when the Health Ministry began an investigation into allegations of conflict of interest and inappropriate data management, contracting out and conduct related to the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Last week, one of the former employees, Ron Mattson, released his termination letter.
In it, the deputy heath minister alleges Mattson breached his fiduciary obligation to protect and safeguard data when he improperly arranged for information to be released to Warburton, a contractor.
At the time, Mattson was a special projects manager at the Alzheimer’s Drug Therapy Initiative, a project involving the provincial government, Alzheimer Society of B.C., the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
Warburton had been hired by UVic to determine, among other things, the cost-effectiveness of three drugs as part of the initiative.
The Sept. 6 termination letter from deputy health minister Graham Whitmarsh reads: “On June 28, 2012, and in response to a request by a University of Victoria researcher, you arranged for Bill Warburton, an unauthorized contractor, to receive a disc containing confidential data.
“Mr. Warburton had not been approved to receive the data and, in fact, his pledge form was not received by the Ministry until approximately two weeks after your attempt to provide him the disc. I note that to date Mr. Warburton has not been approved to receive this data.”
In a statement this week, Warburton said that when he was hired by UVic in July, the Alzheimer’s study was in its final stages and the Health Ministry was preparing to share “anonymized data” with authorized researchers at UVic for analysis.
Warburton said people authorized to work on the Alzheimer’s contract would also be required to sign a pledge of confidentiality, as he said he did.
“As I understand it, Mr. Mattson had submitted a request that I be added to the list of those authorized to access the data at the University of Victoria,” Warburton said.
“As far as I am aware, that data set was never produced. I certainly never received it.”
When the Health Ministry suspended all data-sharing as part of its investigation, there was nothing for Warburton to analyze.
His last paycheque from UVic came in late September.
In July, the ministry also cancelled a $1-a-year contract that gave Warburton access to drug data for research on atypical antipsychotics.
Mattson has filed a notice of civil claim suing B.C.’s health minister for defamation and the Health Ministry for defamation, breach of contract and wrongful dismissal.
He was the second former employee to do so. Malcolm Maclure filed a notice of civil claim on Sept. 14, suing for defamation and wrongful dismissal.
The Health Ministry said in a statement it would not comment on its ongoing investigation or matters before the court but “as is the case with any court action, we will defend our decision through the legal process.”
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