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B.C. private-clinic advocate misleadingly blames two deaths on wait times

Dr. Brian Day, Medical Director of the Cambie Surgery Centre, at his office in Vancouver Aug. 31, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

An outspoken private health-care advocate fighting the B.C. government's efforts to shut down his two private-pay facilities is suggesting two people died because of wait times in the public system. But The Globe and Mail has learned both patients died from tumours that were treated with surgery in public hospitals.

Orthopedic surgeon Brian Day, medical director of Vancouver's Cambie Surgery Centre, wrote an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun, published on Monday, which states two patients originally backing his clinic's highly publicized lawsuit died "as a result of waiting."

However, one patient's sister told The Globe and Mail that is "not true" and that her sister "was treated with the best of care, dignity and respect" in public facilities.

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"It didn't have anything to do with the health system not attending to [my sister] properly," said Lauren Eve, sister of Tifarah Hauff, one of the patients Dr. Day was referring to.

Dr. Day's pronouncements strike at the heart of the high-stakes lawsuit, which has dragged on for a decade. He and his supporters are trying to prove seriously ill patients are suffering and dying needlessly while waiting for treatment in Canada's public health-care system. It is a constitutional case arguing patients should have the right to pay for quicker treatment in private clinics.

The Cambie clinic is among several featured in a recent Globe investigation into doctors who double dip, by charging patients privately for tests and treatments while also working in and billing the public system. That practice is illegal, but The Globe found it is widespread, particularly in British Columbia, at some three dozen private clinics.

In Monday's article, Dr. Day writes, "Our clinic was joined by six patients in challenging such draconian laws. Two of them have died and a teenager was paralyzed for life as a result of waiting."

Court records show the other deceased patient was Emma Krahn, who died of lung cancer at the age of 80. A 2012 affidavit from Ms. Krahn, filed before her death, shows her frustration with wait times was over knee surgery she couldn't get quickly – some four years earlier – not about cancer treatment.

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"When I was told to expect a wait time of one year for [knee] surgery, I was very upset," Ms. Krahn's affidavit states.

In 2009, she ultimately paid to get her knee operated on at Cambie Surgery Centre. In the meantime, unrelated tests – done in the public system – had diagnosed her cancer.

In her affidavit, Ms. Krahn said nothing about having to wait for cancer treatment.

In response to The Globe's queries, Dr. Day sent a medical record, which shows her cancer wasn't confirmed until five months after it was first suspected – a delay he said is not acceptable. "Malignant cancers can spread rapidly in those timelines," he said.

The second patient, Ms. Hauff, died in 2012 from a brain tumour, at the age of 33. That was a month before Cambie added individual patients to the lawsuit, so the particulars of her illness were never part of the case to begin with.

When asked about her case, Dr. Day said Ms. Hauff paid to get an expedited MRI at a private clinic, then paid to see a neurologist at the Specialist Referral Clinic, a second facility owned by Cambie shareholders. However, he confirmed that same neurosurgeon then performed surgery, immediately, in a public hospital.

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Ms. Hauff's sister, who now lives in the United States, said it was "ridiculous" to cite her sister's case, in a critique of publicly funded health care.

"She was in care for six months – and then she died," Ms. Eve said. "She was treated very well and honestly I think that her death had a lot to do with with the fact that her body just gave out."

Dr. Day is adamant his position is justified.

"These are just a few examples of the thousands of patients suffering and dying on wait lists. You need to look no further than B.C.'s emergency room waits that are causing lined up patients to suffer and die," he said.

The trial is set to resume at the end of October, after being adjourned for several months.

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About the Author

Kathy Tomlinson lives in Vancouver and joined the Globe’s national investigative team in August, 2015. Prior to that, she hosted CBC’s ‘Go Public’ segment. Kathy’s been an investigative reporter for the better part of three decades and has worked in Washington, D.C., Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. More

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