A retired Penticton nurse continues the fight to keep doctors who make medical errors accountable. (Black Press Media file)

Retired Penticton nurse fights to keep doctors who make medical errors accountable

Teri McGrath is encouraging others to write to their MLA, MP to bring attention to the issue

  • Aug. 24, 2021 12:00 a.m.

Patients don’t deserve to be wrung out when they look for answers.

That’s what retired Penticton nurse Teri McGrath says as she continues the fight to bring to light the difficult struggle of keeping doctors who make medical errors accountable.

McGrath has been advocating for fair compensation for patients who have been harmed because of their doctors’ mistakes since 2019. She started with a petition that was read in the House of Commons in June 2019, but little came of it.

She launched another petition in October 2020, which was then filed and read in Parliament by South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings on Feb. 17, 2021.

Since then, still not much has happened.

McGrath said at the heart of the issue is the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), which as its name suggests, provides legal defence for Canadian doctors. She has said the CMPA has about $5.2 billion in funds for legal fees, or patient payouts when necessary.

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But McGrath said, the problem is that the provincial government reimburses physicians who become members of the CMPA, meaning doctors who pay to be members get a portion of their membership fees back through the government’s rebate program. McGrath said this means at some point, taxpayers’ money is actually used for legal defence against other taxpayers when they are harmed by medical professionals. The province’s Medical Services Commission reported in its 2019-2020 financial statement that B.C. paid out $57.7 million in reimbursements through its CMPA rebate program.

“Would this money not have been better spent for the citizens of B.C. and helping them in this health care crisis we’re in?” McGrath said.

CMPA’s associate CEO Dr. Todd Watkins said while the association sees an average of 700 to 800 lawsuits against medical professionals, the CMPA settles about a third of them in favour of the patient.

He added they only go to court when they know they have a firm case to defend a physician.

“When we assess the case and get medical experts involved, where we feel the experts don’t support the care that was delivered we work with the plaintiff’s lawyer to come to a resolution of settlement,” he said.

He said the association’s goal is to provide patient support as soon as possible, but that process does take time. He said physicians don’t set out to deliberately harm a patient but when it happens, experts and the CMPA first need to make sure the doctor wasn’t negligent.

“What the courts have said is they don’t expect perfection, but they expect physicians to live up to a standard of care that is fair and reasonable in a particular situation,” he said.

“If by chance a physician selects the wrong diagnosis and follows that path … that could be perceived as a delayed or misdiagnosis, but may be perceived as experts and the court as meeting the standard of care because the diagnosis was reasonable in those circumstances.

“It is the worst-case scenario for both the patient and the physician because no one likes to see that. But it is an unfortunate element of the reality of delivering care.”

However, McGrath maintains part of the problem is that doctors keep joining the CMPA as members.

“Nobody is speaking up because they’re afraid to … but until health care practitioners refuse to engage and be a member of the CMPA, nothing’s going to change,” she said.

“They’ll say, ‘we need liability coverage,’ but I’ve found three Canadian insurance companies that will provide liability coverage for medical practitioners.”

For the association’s part, Watkins said they are not an insurance company, providing instead an occurrence-based type of compensation and protection program. This means that the money the CMPA holds is used to provide either protection for the physician or compensation for a patient for current cases, past occurrences that may be reported now, as well as future cases, all depending on when the physician-caused harm is reported.

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McGrat has written to B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix, as well as his other provincial counterparts, even organizing letters for each province’s auditor general. She has written letters that others who are fighting alongside her will send out to the appropriate people in their provinces.

The next step, McGrath said, is for provincial ministers of health, and medical professionals, to come together to agree that they will only pay a certain amount to the CMPA or even not become members at all.

“Get your own liability insurance, then you can go down the path of no-fault health care compensation, there’s arbitration, there’s compensation. (Other companies) can do this without the divisiveness (of the CMPA).”

McGrath’s petition is no longer open for signatures, but you can still read it and the federal government’s response here.

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@twilamam twila.amato@blackpress.ca

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