Playing for the Pharma team: Christy Clark switches jerseys on drug safety

Independent drug oversight finds itself unwelcome in British Columbia.

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"The most comprehensive data in Canada has been denied to us," he says, noting that the B.C. government has failed to respond to repeated inquiries from alarmed scientists across Canada-an position consistent with its refusal to release information about its data-sharing agreements requested by the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association last summer.

He is equally distressed by the B.C. government's attack on Maclure, whom he calls a "world-leading scientist" who is "straight as a die." He describes the B.C. government's mauling of Maclure as "very distressing to us in the scientific community," citing the names of notable scientific leaders from across the country.

Seeking to put the situation in perspective, Bob Nakagawa notes that many researchers express frustration with the ministry's unwillingness to grant scientists access to data.

Elizabeth Denham, B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner, strongly agrees. Last June, Denham met with a group of PharmaNet experts, including Dr. Bruce Carleton, a UBC pharmacology professor who, as chair of the Ministry of Health's Data Stewardship Committee, has power over who gets drug data and for what reason. Denham concluded in a report on the meeting that there is a "real and systemic" problem: "Researchers in British Columbia are simply not getting access to the health data they need to conduct medical research. This is unacceptable." And in a passage that seems to address Carleton's role chairing the province's data committee, she complained of "data stewards with no efficient processes to approve data access requests and inefficient administration."

Easy prey for the opposition

The government’s decision to fire these scientists and terminate support for the TI is the sort of no-brainer controversy its political opponents love.

During the Spring election campaign, NDP Leader Adrian Dix praised the TI for saving lives and more than $100 million annually in pharmaceutical costs for the province. The initiative frequently raised early concerns about the safety of drugs that government regulators later reinforced, he noted. After rebuking the Liberals for attacking the TI funding, Dix pledged to restore its “role as BC’s drug watchdog and make its expertise available to private drug plans, clinicians and consumers.”

Sacrificial lamb

When Premier Christy Clark was invited on CKNW radio during the campaign, she tried to clear the air.

Healthcare, she explained as a lead-up to discussing her government’s attack on the auditors who save the system hundreds of millions in drug costs, “is complicated.” And so was the reasoning she provided for her government’s decision to trash the auditors.

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