B.C. health ministry fires four employees
Four B.C. ministry of health employees have been fired and three have been suspended in relation to allegations of inappropriate contract management and data access involving staff and drug researchers.
Margaret MacDiarmid, the new minister of health under B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s restructured cabinet, said she is “deeply troubled” by the allegations.
“We take it very seriously, and I am confident that as soon as the ministry became aware of a concern that was expressed initially to the auditor general, that every step was taken to very quickly respond to that, and to take the matter seriously and to deal with it effectively and decisively,” MacDiarmid said during a news conference today (September 6).
The minister indicated the RCMP has been asked to investigate the allegations, which came to light through a complaint to the auditor general’s office in March.
“What we believe has happened is that individuals have gone outside of the rules around taking data and using data, which leads back to research in the area of drugs,” she said.
According to MacDiarmid, a formal ministry investigation that was launched in May produced evidence of potential conflict of interest. The internal investigation examined contracting and research grant practices between employees in the pharmaceutical services division and researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
“It would appear that some of the people that are involved had relationships with others that would put them into conflict that wasn’t declared,” she said.
The minister added the data at the centre of the allegations appears to have been used for health research purposes.
“There is no sense at this moment that the information has been used for anything other than research purposes,” she said. “But it does appear that the original purpose for which it was to be used—that it was then taken and used in some other form of research. And that is not allowed under our current legislation.”
While the investigation continues, the minister said a series of steps have been taken, including suspension of all work on contracts related to drug and evidence development.
The seven employees were suspended without pay in early June. Four of those employees were terminated today. Two contractors also had their contracts and data access suspended.
In addition to the RCMP, the ministry says they have also been in contact with the auditor general's office, the information and privacy commissioner, the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.