The latest amendment to Ontario’s Budget Bill 173 fails to address concerns raised around a change to freedom of information legislation that will permit greater hospital secrecy.
Schedule 15 of Bill 173 enables a hospital CEO to shield from public scrutiny any information about quality of care produced for or by a hospital committee. More than a dozen groups appeared before the legislature’s Standing Committee on Financial and Economic Affairs in April asking the offending schedule be removed.
Instead the McGuinty government has amended the proposed Bill to exempt “information provided in confidence to, or records prepared with the expectation of confidentiality by, a hospital committee to assess or evaluate the quality of healthcare and directly related programs and services provided by a hospital, if the assessment or evaluation is for the purpose of improving that care and the programs and services.”
Ontario hospitals are the last in Canada to come under Freedom of Information legislation. After introducing a public sector accountability bill last fall that would open up hospitals to freedom of information requests beginning January 2012, the McGuinty government recently caved-in to a lobby by the Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Medical Association and a private insurance company to narrow what would be accessible.
“The government’s amendment allows hospital executives to make some documents secret by simply stamping ‘confidential’ on them or retroactively suggesting that the records were intended to be private,” says Cybele Sack of Impatient for Change, a patient advocacy group. “Our freedom of information laws are meant to increase transparency and this amendment undermines that spirit.”
The final act is expected to be passed by the majority Liberal government this Thursday (May 5).