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Tories claim overspending and cronyism still problems at eHealth Ontario

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews answers question following the Auditor General's special report on Ornge air ambulance operations Mar. 21, 2012 at Queen's Park.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The Conservatives raised new concerns Monday about overspending at eHealth Ontario, angering Health Minister Deb Matthews by claiming more than $2-billion had been spent with "nothing to show for it."

That same charge was levelled against eHealth in 2009 by the auditor general, who reported $1-billion had been spent at that time to develop electronic health records but with very little progress.

The Liberals brought in a new CEO and board of directors at eHealth, and then-health minister David Caplan was forced to resign, but the Tories said the government still isn't properly managing the agency.

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"Surely your ministry must be ashamed of having spent $2.4 billion with absolutely nothing to show for it," Progressive Conservative Rick Nicholls asked Ms. Matthews at a legislative committee.

"Cronyism and scandalous overspending are still commonplace at eHealth."

More than 60 per cent of family doctors in Ontario now use electronic medical records, Ms. Matthews said as she lashed out at Mr. Nicholls for making accusations she said he knew to be false.

"That is a completely erroneous statement that you just made," she fired back.

"We have made tremendous progress. Patients are benefiting every day from the progress that has been made at eHealth Ontario."

The Tories hammered away at Ms. Matthews for missed deadlines at eHealth to create electronic medical records, a drug information system, an immunization tracking system and a diabetes registry.

"It was a colossal failure to get this off the ground," Conservative MPP Mike Harris said about the diabetes registry, which was supposed to be ready in April 2009 but still isn't up and running.

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"Ontarians want to know how much more money are they going to have to sink into this."

The outside vendor that was hired to develop the diabetes registry had not received any taxpayers' money because it still hasn't delivered a working program, said Ms. Matthews.

"I am enormously disappointed the vendor did not deliver on time," she admitted.

"Getting it right is more important than getting it done on time."

Electronic medical records are an important part of a sustainable health-care system, but eHealth Ontario is far more than just electronic records in doctors' offices, said Ms. Matthews.

"If we want a highly functioning health-care system in Ontario we must continue to invest in eHealth," she said.

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"There are significant net savings to the system in having electronic health records."

The Conservatives said some of the high-paid consultants caught abusing their taxpayer-funded expense accounts in the first eHealth scandal now are with another company that is poised to get $70 million in eHealth contracts. Several other former employees of Courtyard group have been hired by eHealth, added the Tories.

Ms. Matthews said a minister never gets involved in the procurement process, but added eHealth made it clear it would not allow any of the consultants from the last scandal to work on its programs.

"I will not get involved in procurement decisions," she said.

"That is the job of others to make sure that the procurement is fair and above board and transparent."

eHealth did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

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