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Health ministry fires fifth person in data, contract investigation

Another longtime government employee has been fired as part of a health ministry investigation related to contracts and data management.

Last week Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced the ministry had fired four people and suspended three others for reasons related to potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management. Information from the preliminary investigation had been passed to the RCMP, she said.

Today the government fired a fifth person, Bob Hart. He was the ministry's director of data access, research and stewardship, and had worked for the government for 30 years. He had been one of the three people who were previously suspended without pay.

Hart did not respond to a phone message by publication time.

A government spokesperson said he could not confirm the firing or provide any new details, but other sources familiar with the investigation confirmed Hart has been fired.

Ron Mattson, who was fired last week, has said he was "mystified" by his termination and plans to sue for wrongful dismissal and possibly defamation. Another of the fired employee's told The Tyee he'd believed he was doing a good job and that the reasons he was given for the firing did not make sense.

Two more people remain suspended. Rebecca Warburton holds a PhD in economics worked both for the ministry and teaching in the school of public administration at UVic. Malcolm Maclure is a PhD epidemiologist who worked at the ministry and had appointments to UVic and the University of B.C.

Early in the investigation the government stopped a $1-a-year contract with Warburton's husband Bill Warburton that gave him access to the ministry's drug data.

Several of the people involved had been working on projects that examined the evidence on the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals. Some of the work would have affected which drugs would be paid for through the province's PharmaCare program.

Asked today about the investigation that began while he was the health minister, Mike de Jong said he could not share details about what's believed to have happened, but that "it's disappointing, it's troubling."

The freeze on data that's been put in place during the investigation for many researchers is contrary to the direction the government had been taking, said de Jong, who is now the finance minister.

"One of the things I as health minister had endeavoured to promote is responsible access to the treasure trove of data we hold as a society with a PharmaCare program," he said. "I am hopeful that appropriate steps will be taken quickly so that that initiative is not set back."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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