British Columbia’s Health Minister is responding to allegations of gag orders and muzzling of the province’s health-care workers after a public outcry and widespread discussion of the issue.
CTV News first reported on statements made on background and in public by health-care workers and their associations last week. Examples ranged from concerns about patient care, to staffing levels to workplace toxicity – and claims that those speaking up face consequences ranging from being labeled a troublemaker to formal disciplinary action.
Adrian Dix’s first comment was to point out there’s whistleblower protection in place in BC’s health authorities, with expanded protections through the Office of the Ombudsperson coming. He also acknowledged staff have a duty to report on safety issues and said he expects them to do so.
“It’s always an obligation to do that, that’s why those provisions are in place, to ensure the health-care workers can respond to those conditions,” he said, noting the well-documented staffing crisis is having an impact.
Dix’s office said he was unavailable to speak to these issues last week but addressed what’s often described as a “culture of fear” at length during a segment in studio on CTV Morning Live on Monday, as well as during a brief one-on-one afterward interview.
“I think when the health-care system’s working well, like any system, you’re listening to people,” Dix said.
“These are challenging times for our system and you have to be able to have systems internally where you can listen to what people have to say – and I think we do that.”
Pointing out that he often can’t speak to specific cases due to patient confidentiality, Dix acknowledged that he hasn’t seen any privacy violations on the rare occasions where healthcare workers have spoken publicly. Generally, it’s professional associations that speak out on systemic issues, allowing individual workers to avoid repercussions.
Insisting that “we can always do better,” Dix emphasized that his government has already beefed up labor rights for many workers and avoided job action by health-care staff with tentative agreements with paramedics and updated contracts with family doctors. Negotiations for a new nurses’ contract are underway.
“We’ve got to keep listening, keep working, that’s the way you make things better,” said Dix. “We’ve added, as you know, 38,000 net new health-care workers in the five years I’ve been Minister of Health.”