CALGARY — Doctors who want to voice their concerns must do so in a professional manner, the former head of Alberta Health Services said Thursday amid allegations that health workers have been bullied into silence.
“It means they have to disentangle personal interest from system and patient interest. And they are not always the same,” Stephen Duckett told a University of Calgary forum on health care.
He declined to comment on accusations that health workers are being muzzled when they point out flaws in the system, such as long wait lists and quality of care.
But he did say that doctors, nurses and other professionals must set aside their personal interests when speaking publicly about patient care or other health issues.
“You are a professional and the public values your views as a professional. So you’ve got to be careful that you’re acting professionally in the comments you make,” he said.
Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann has said scores of health-care workers are coming forward with complaints of intimidation. He and other Opposition politicians have been calling for a public inquiry for weeks.
Duckett’s exit from Alberta’s health-care scene in November followed an exchange with reporters in Edmonton in which he declined to answer questions, saying he was busy eating a cookie.
At the conference, Duckett reflected on his nearly two-year tenure.
Immediately upon taking the helm, Duckett had to cut $1.3 billion from the budget — a move that did not win him many popularity points.
“When I announced the budget cuts that I had to make, the immediate media response is that I’m an evil person,” he said.
But his job wasn’t to demand more money from the province, but to work within the budget he was given, he said.
“I took the view that the Alberta Health Services budget is set by the government. And so my job as the CEO was to actually manage what was set by the democratically elected people. I’m not a democratically elected person. I was an appointed CEO,” he said.
“Actually changing that culture and actually saying ’we have to live within an allocated budget’ was actually quite tough.”
There were some things Duckett said he would have done differently.
He said he didn’t invest enough time and energy ensuring his staff had the skills necessary to implement his vision.
In deciding to cut beds at an Edmonton mental health facility, Duckett said he “tried to do too much too quickly, with a lack of trust in the community.”