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Gov't Backtracks on Decision to Award 'Patient Voices' Contract to Multinational

'We took this action because of their voices,' says minister of volunteer patients.

By Andrew MacLeod 4 Nov 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Health Minister Terry Lake says he didn't know that civil servants in his ministry had decided to award the $6.9-million contract to Deloitte.

The British Columbia government is backtracking on a decision to award a $6.9-million contract to Deloitte LLP to administer a program that has volunteers provide input on health policy.

"We have decided to cancel the [request for proposals] and bring the program into the Ministry," Health Minister Terry Lake wrote in a letter responding to NDP health critic Judy Darcy that he posted on Twitter this morning.

The government had offered the contract to run the Patient Voices Network to the multinational corporation Deloitte LLP, work that had been done over the past six years by a Vancouver non-profit called ImpactBC.

The health ministry had informed ImpactBC on Sept. 23 that Deloitte had won the competition, but Lake told The Tyee on Monday that no decision had been made and that he'd asked his deputy "to do a little more work on it."

The Patient Voices Network includes some 700 volunteers who provide health care providers with a patient perspective on everything from the management of long-term care facilities, to drug list decisions, to how to improve hospital services.

One volunteer, Sherry Peters, said on Monday that she and other volunteers were upset that the decision to award the contract to Deloitte "was done without any consulting, any awareness."

Civil servants made Deloitte decision: Lake

In his letter to Darcy today, Lake wrote, "As we have moved through the [request for proposals] process, the Ministry has identified a need to revisit our policy approach to the Patient Voices Network, to ensure that we continue building upon the strong relationships established between the volunteer network, the Ministry, and the health authorities that give patients a strong voice in our strategic agenda for the coming years."

The program will stay within the ministry, Lake wrote, "until we have made a longer-term policy decision on how the program should continue going forward."

A spokesperson for Deloitte said client confidentiality prevents the company from commenting.

In an interview, Lake said withdrawing the request for proposals was the right thing to do. "One thing we were weak on was actually connecting with the volunteers who were providing the service," he said. "We heard back from them, and we took this action because of their voices."

Civil servants made the decision to award the contract to Deloitte, Lake said. "I found out about it when many other people did, and expressed my concern to our deputy minister."

Ministry staff have met with representatives of Deloitte about the change of direction, he said. "We'll wait and see if there are any ramifications. I don't expect so; this is a professional consulting company that I think understands that we really need to keep those volunteers engaged."

Process flawed, says NDP

The NDP's Darcy said the minister made the right decision. "Volunteers spoke up, and the minister listened," she said. "It's a good day, because patients will continue to have their voices heard in health care policy in B.C."

Darcy added that it's "shocking" that Lake didn't know about the decision ahead of time. "It's the minister's responsibility to know about major decisions being made in his ministry."

She said many volunteers were concerned that Deloitte's work for clients like drug companies might put the company in a potential conflict of interest if it also administered the Patient Voices Network.

More than two-thirds of the volunteers had declined to allow ImpactBC to pass their contact information on to the government and Deloitte, she said.

"I think one has to question the whole procurement process in the ministry of health," Darcy said. "There's something seriously flawed there."

Peters, who volunteered through Patient Voices Network over the last year to share with health care professionals her perspective as someone living with an autoimmune disease, said she was glad the ministry reconsidered. "I'm willing to sit down and have a discussion as to how we move forward from this point on. I look forward to that."

However, she said, the decision came after ImpactBC closed and the trust of volunteers was betrayed. "I think it's very sad that was done after so much damage, much of it irrevocable, was done."

Moving on will require the government to provide details of what happened in the procurement process, Peters said. "I want to know how this happened."  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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