Private-medicine advocate voted head of B.C. doctors’ group

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake says he is seeking legal advice after a champion of private medicine who is locked in a legal battle with the province was elected Tuesday to represent the province’s physicians next year.

NDP health critic Judy Darcy, meanwhile, said she is flabbergasted at the vote, saying it’s a serious problem if the minister can’t meet with the doctors’ representative because of a conflict.

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Dr. Brian Day was elected Tuesday by a single-vote margin as president-elect of Doctors of B.C. for 2015-16. He’ll lead the organization for a year starting in June 2016.

Day, an orthopedic surgeon and co-owner of the private Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver, is involved in a court case against the B.C. government over private medicine. The lawsuit, which argues that it’s unconstitutional to deny patients access to private clinics if waiting for care in the public health system harms their health, has been twice delayed and is not scheduled to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court until the end of the year.

The case is expected to last seven months, which could mean Day presides over the organization at the same time that he’s in court fighting the government — a scenario that could present numerous problems, since Doctors of B.C. interacts with the government frequently on joint committees and initiatives.

“As minister of Health, I obviously want to have a positive relationship with the Doctors of B.C. — I’ve obviously had that with the past presidents,” Lake said Tuesday.

“It may pose, I guess, potentially, some difficulties if we have an active legal case going forward whether I’m able to meet with the president-elect of the Doctors of B.C. I’ll have to obviously seek [legal] opinion about that.”

Darcy questioned why the province’s doctors would choose a champion of private medicine to represent their concerns to government. “Brian Day has led the charge to try and bring more private, for-profit health care to British Columbia,” she said. “I know those are not values shared with the majority of B.C. doctors that I’ve spoken with.”

Darcy said many doctors end up referring people to the private system, not because they believe in it but out of frustration.

“We need to hear those voices loud and clear saying we need to be investing in innovation and improving wait lists in the public system. And that’s the answer rather than moving to a private system.”

The current president, Victoria family physician Dr. Bill Cavers, will step down on June 6, to be replaced by Dr. Charles Webb until Day begins his term.

Cavers said the president’s job is to represent the interests of all doctors.

“It’s not about your personal agenda. And if anyone has a reason to recuse themselves from board discussions, then they do that. Because sometimes interests do collide.”

While the association does not support two-tier health care, Carvers said there is room for private care clinics to help relieve pressure on the public system, by providing elective day procedures, for example.

“We believe the patient should get timely access to care and if they can’t, then the government and/or health authority should provide some public funds so they can get access to care as a backstop, as a safety valve,” Cavers said.

A total of 2,176 votes were cast Tuesday. Day was elected with 946 votes, while Dr. Alan Ruddiman received 945 votes. Dr. Lloyd Oppel was a third with 285 votes.

— With files from The Vancouver Sun

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