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Health ministry shakes up access to drug data

The British Columbia health ministry has outsourced access to prescription drug data at a time when the system is under scrutiny due to an investigation that saw seven people fired or suspended without pay. *

Starting Dec. 1, Population Data BC began taking and coordinating applications from academic researchers for access to data from the province's PharmaNet system.

In September the ministry fired its director of data access, research and stewardship, Bob Hart. He had been with the ministry for 30 years. He was one of six employees who were fired, and a seventh who was suspended without pay has filed a lawsuit saying he was constructively dismissed.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid has said the firings had to do with potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management. The ministry also put a stop on access to drug data as part of its investigation, some of which has been restored.

A ministry spokesperson could not immediately respond to questions about the change in how access to data is being managed.

According to its website, Population Data BC is a multi-university body based at UBC that facilitates research on the determinants of human health, well-being and development. It's governance committee includes representatives of five B.C. universities, the BC Cancer Agency, the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the health ministry.

Population Data BC will submit applications on behalf of researchers to the health ministry's data stewardship committee, its website says. That committee, which is legislated to have up to 12 members, currently has just four. The chair is Bruce Carleton, a professor on UBC's faculty of medicine.

Update, 5:55 p.m.: The change in access to drug data is not connected to the health ministry's investigation, said spokesperson Ryan Jabs in an email. "It builds on the work that we started last spring in this area to help streamline the process for academic researchers who require access PharmaNet data for approved research, while building on the protections, security and expertise that Population Data has developed," he said.

Population Data BC will not control the data, but will help researchers prepare their applications to receive it, he said. "As is the current practice, researcher’s requests for this data still need to be reviewed and approved by the Data Stewardship Committee."

* Paragraph clarified, 5:55 p.m..

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

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