Province changes course on FOI rules for hospitals

Governments often slip little-noticed and seemingly unrelated items into their spending plans, but just a single line in the recent provincial budget measures bill is causing a split within Ontario’s medical community.

Section 15 of the “better tomorrow for Ontario act,” which is currently in second reading before the legislature, would amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to provide an exemption for the release of “information provided to, or records prepared by, a hospital committee for the purpose of assessing or evaluating the quality of health care and directly related programs and services provided by the hospital.”

The provisions take effect Jan. 1, 2012. The new amendments come just a few months after the government passed Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act, that provided broad public access to hospitals’ administrative and policy-related information for the first time by subjecting them to the freedom of information act. The latest proposed changes would partially reverse those reforms.

A nurses’ organization has slammed the move. “The public has a right to know what’s happening in its local hospitals,” the London Free Press quoted Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario executive director Doris Grinspun as saying.

“It’s absolutely shameful and the height of arrogance,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath chimed in.

But Health Minister Deb Matthews has defended the move to exempt information related to quality of care from public release. According to the Free Press, Matthews believes subjecting hospitals and doctors to greater scrutiny would prevent open dialogue about problems and how to fix them. “They must have a very open and frank discussion,” she said.

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