Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

The government branch in charge of cancer treatment at Abbotsford Regional Hospital has refused to release negative findings contained in a 2016 audit of the triage system for cancer patients.

While the Provincial Health Services Authority released a small list of positive findings contained in an audit requested by The News, 10 pages of “risk findings” were nearly completely redacted.

The News has requested the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) review the redactions and release the audit in full.

The document in question is a Patient Referrals and Triaging Audit completed in October of 2016.

The News had requested numerous documents after reporting on the case of Carol Young, a cancer patient who was told by a doctor that she had a month to live without treatment, but who was told she would have to wait four weeks for an appointment with an oncologist. Young received an appointment with an oncologist after The News reported on her case. She remains alive.

RELATED: Cancer patient given month to live without treatment, but must wait weeks to see doctor

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In releasing the audit, the PHSA made the redactions, citing Section 13(1) of the Freedom of Information Act. That section allows, but does not require, a public body to refuse to disclose information that would reveal advice or recommendations. The exception exists to allow public servants to feel free to give full and frank advice to decision-makers, although a following subsection states that a public body can’t refuse to release of an audit under Section 13(1).

An analyst told a reporter that it was the PHSA’s “position” that it could redact portions of the audit because they would reveal advice or recommendations.

The province’s freedom of information law states that a public body must release information about the health or safety of the public, or anything else “clearly in the public interest.”

The audit contains “risk ratings” for several areas. Those ratings, however, are redacted. The audit also includes two sections titled “Positive Findings” and “Risk Findings.” A short preliminary section states: “Positive findings are areas where the processes and controls are well developed. Risk findings are areas which require further attention.”

The “Positive Findings” include four bullet points – each a sentence long and unredacted. Those findings were: “Management receives and reviews regular reports regarding new patient appointments by geographical location, tumor site, and specialty; Certain long-term HIM clerical staff members have gained significant experience in understanding cancer care terminology, which helps expedite the referral process; The BCCA website provides detailed information and guidance for referring physicians on how to refer a patient to a cancer clinic, service or program; Some BCCA centres are using electronic triage which improves the quality and accessibility of triage documentation.”

In a statement sent to The News Tuesday evening, PHSA and BC Cancer spokesperson Pamela Gole wrote:

“Internal audits provide advice and recommendations to assist the organization in prioritizing and assessing risk to improve and advance health care for our patients. This essential information relies on the openness of employees and if they were concerned about how their comments might be taken out of context or misunderstood in the public domain, that could prevent them from speaking up – and then we could miss out on important opportunities to improve care. So in order to reap the maximum benefit from internal audits, FIPPA allows for such recommendations and corresponding action plans to be withheld and acted upon internally.

“That said, we aim to resolve concerns directly with anyone who requests information. We appreciate that sometimes individuals will still have outstanding questions and in those situations, we encourage people to contact the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.”


@ty_olsen
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