The B.C. government announced Thursday it has suspended all drugrelated research and fired four of its employees as part of an investigation into the alleged misuse of confidential medical information.
"I can't really overstate how deeply troubled I am by this," Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said Thursday.
On Thursday, The Vancouver Sun reported that seven government employees had been suspended without pay, and that agreements with two contractors had been dropped.
She said her ministry has suspended $4 million in drugrelated research contracts, including work being done at both the University of B.C. and the University of Victoria.
"This is research that we contract with certain research entities, and that has all been stopped for the moment until we're sure going forward that no health information is being shared inappropriately," she said.
Hiring an independent consultant to review and enhance data security measures MacDiarmid took over as health minister in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday and said she was shocked to hear of the allegations.
"It is my understanding that it was personal data, that it is regarding medications, but that there is personal data included in that," she said.
"It would appear that some of the people that were involved had relationships with others that would put them into a conflict that wasn't declared," she said, adding a family relationship was among the issues.
MacDiarmid also said the motivations for the alleged misconduct remains unclear, noting that so far investigators have not uncovered evidence of any personal financial gain.
The ministry began its recent investigation in May after the auditor general's office relayed an anonymous complaint about contracting irregularities and inappropriate research practices in the ministry's pharmaceutical services division.
The ministry has since involved the RCMP, and last month provided the force with the preliminary results of its internal investigation.
At a media briefing in Victoria on Thursday, reporters were told that suspensions without pay were not a common practice but that the government makes such decisions based on the information available.
Automated Summary from: The Vancouver Sun