B.C. Health Ministry hires back fired drug researcher

A distinguished drug researcher who was swept up in a mass firing by the B.C. Health Ministry over alleged privacy breaches two years ago has been rehired and praised for his work in health-data privacy protection.

The B.C. Ministry of Health announced Friday that it had rehired Malcolm Maclure as a consultant on research and evidence development. “I feel exonerated,” Maclure said.

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In May 2012, the Health Ministry launched an investigation into allegations of conflict of interest, inappropriate conduct and data mismanagement in its pharmaceutical services division.

Seven Health Ministry workers were fired as a result of the investigation.

The sharing of drug data and contracts with the University of B.C. and the University of Victoria were suspended. The government also suspended the use of de-identified Health Ministry data by the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, an independent research group on pharmaceuticals that acts as a drug-safety watchdog for British Columbians.

Maclure is the second person to be officially reinstated. Robert Neil Hart was rehired in March “as a demonstration of the government’s continuing confidence in him,” according to an agreement of facts.

One of the seven committed suicide in January 2013.

“Two years ago, I wrote to the ministry: ‘I look forward to collaborating after my exoneration.’ And here we are,” Maclure said. “The ministry has hired me as a consultant with my old title. That indicates that they are confident in my integrity and my work.”

Maclure returns to drug research aimed at helping physicians improve their prescribing. “The drug-safety studies that were stopped are restarting, one by one,” he said.

Former NDP leader Adrian Dix, who advocated for the dismissed workers, welcomed the news but criticized the government for the setbacks caused to pharmaceutical research.

“The Liberal government, in its highly publicized, excessive and inaccurate attack on talented, committed people, did a great deal of harm,” Dix said.

“The government was wrong, and it hurt health care and safety” as well as the people accused. “Today, provides some measure of remedy … but there is much, much more to do.”

Jim Wright, co-managing director of the Therapeutics Initiative, said of Maclure: “We never doubted him.”

Opposition health critic Judy Darcy said the investigation smeared the reputations of fine B.C. researchers who have now been exonerated and vindicated.

“The government obviously has significant legal recourses and clearly didn’t have a substantial case to back up its allegation against Malcolm or other people in the Therapeutics Initiative,” Darcy said.

Maclure sued the government in September 2012 for wrongful dismissal and defamation, claiming the breach of his employment contract was “motivated by bad faith and was unfair, high-handed and reprehensible.” He has dropped that lawsuit.

In a counterclaim, the government accused Maclure of conflict of interest, disclosing confidential information to one or more third parties, facilitating or failing to prevent unauthorized access to data, and failing to comply with policies and procedures and standards of conduct around competition for research contracts.

Maclure, a professor and B.C. Chair of Patient Safety at the University of B.C., has worked with the Health Ministry for more than 20 years.

During those two decades, Maclure “contributed to improvements in health data privacy protection,” the ministry said Friday in a statement.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake would not comment Friday. “He cannot comment on specific personnel issues,” spokesman Ryan Jabs said.

charnett@timescolonist.com

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