Province settles with fired drug researchers

William and Rebecca Warburton are the last to settle 2012 dispute that saw eight drug researchers fired in error

B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke

The B.C. government has reached the last two out-of-court settlements with drug researchers fired in 2012 over alleged mishandling of patient treatment data.

Researchers William and Rebecca Warburton, a married couple, have been invited to reapply for access to B.C. government health data as part of the settlement of their lawsuits against the government, deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe said Tuesday.

“Dr. Rebecca Warburton and Dr. William Warburton acknowledge that they did breach some rules and procedures,” Fyfe said. “The province recognizes that such breaches were motivated by their intention to further the research goals of the Ministry of Health, and not for their personal gain.”

Eight researchers lost their contracts or jobs after allegations about use of confidential patient data in the evaluation of drugs for eligibility under B.C.’s Pharmacare program. Former MLA Margaret Macdiarmid, newly appointed health minister at the time, accused the researchers of misusing data and having conflicts of interest, citing a police investigation that the ministry requested but never followed through with.

William Warburton, a health economist on contract, dropped his lawsuit against the ministry in May 2015, but continued a defamation action against Macdiarmid until this week’s settlement. Rebecca Warburton was a director of research for the health ministry, fired in October 2012.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the government is continuing to work with Ombudsperson Jay Chalke to determine how the wrongful suspensions and terminations came about. Chalke was appointed last spring, and in July the government changed legislation to give him the extra authority he requested to investigate the situation. Chalke had made it a condition of taking the case that his office be exempted from confidentiality agreements that had been reached with some researchers.

Five researchers were earlier paid undisclosed settlements and reinstated. Roderick MacIsaac, a graduate student, committed suicide several months after his research contract was terminated.

 

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