Bureaucratic inertia may have led to delay in Cambie Surgery Centre trial

Government reveals it failed to disclose 300,000 pages of documents

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BELLEVILLE, ON, Apr 10, 2015/ Troy Media/ – British Columbia residents frustrated by waiting lists for medical services will be disappointed to learn of a bureaucratic delay in a court case that could help unstop the backlog.

The case – which involves Dr. Brian Day, the Cambie Surgery Centre, and four patients who suffered adverse effects when their healthcare was delayed – has been moseying its way through the court system for more than five years.

Higher costs for Cambie Surgery Centre and other plaintiffs

It was scheduled to go to trial in September 2014, but was then postponed until March 2. Then, just two weeks before trial, the government’s lawyers disclosed that the Ministry of Health had “recently identified a very large number of documents that may potentially be relevant” to the case.

Relevant documents are supposed to be disclosed at the very beginning of a lawsuit, not two weeks before trial. So the trial has had to be postponed until at least November while both sides’ lawyers examine as many as 300,000 pages of additional documents. Poring over this mess will not be fun.

cambie surgery centre
The case involves Dr. Brian Day, the Cambie Surgery Centre, and four patients who suffered adverse effects when their healthcare was delayed

This is especially bad news for the plaintiffs. One is a cancer patient who might not survive until she gets her day in court.

Cynics might conclude the government arranged this stunt in the hopes of exhausting the plaintiffs’ funds available to pay legal fees. But the more likely explanation is that this is simply bureaucracy in action – or rather, bureaucracy in its characteristic inaction.

I’ve experienced first-hand how easy it is to become indolent under the wrong conditions. One summer, as a teenager, I worked part-time as a bank teller for a small trust company where walk-in customers were sparse. I and my two workmates often ended up sitting around chatting as we waited for the brief busy spell around noon. I soon observed that on the rare occasions when a customer came in mid-morning or mid-afternoon, none of us leapt to our feet to serve him. We had become so slothful that we actually resented having to get up and do something.

I suspect there is a similar phenomenon in government offices. So little demand is placed on the employees that when some task finally does come in needing attention, it’s an annoyance that they feel they can safely ignore for a while.

They still get paid, and life just rolls on at its usual (leisurely) pace.

Could it be that the B.C. government’s lawyer told the Ministry of Health years ago to produce all relevant documents, but someone laid the memo aside?

While the trust company I worked for went out of business, no such feedback mechanism exists for government. It carries on taking our tax dollars and paying idle bureaucrats because there’s no profit-and-loss statement, no way of measuring “customer” satisfaction and no genuine way of measuring employee productivity.

There are long waiting lists for medical treatment for humans, but not for veterinary treatment for your dog or repairs to your car. The former is run by the government, where all economic signals motivating the efficient processing of customers have been eliminated. Private businesses have to satisfy customers to survive. There’s no perpetual stream of unearned funds flowing into their hands. They have to produce something that people actually want, and they have to do it in a timely fashion.

Canadians deserve better treatment

And that’s what this entire lawsuit is about. Do Canadians deserve medical service as promptly as their pets and their vehicles get? Or should they be left in pain on waiting lists because of the inertia and lassitude engendered by the absence of any profit motive?

Meanwhile, although the delay is costing the plaintiffs money in legal fees, it’s also giving them a further fundraising opportunity. Readers who would like to donate towards this legal challenge can do so at YourHealthCantWait.ca.

Karen Selick is the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which is providing support to the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

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