NL Patients Get Second Class Care

In a noteworthy decision, a trial judge was confronted with the outrageous defence that patients in Newfoundland are entitled to a lower standard of care than elsewhere.

General practitioner Peter J. Cleary missed a diagnosis of mouth cancer over a nine month period, resulting in extensive commando surgery to effect a cure. To get himself off the hook, the doctor and his powerful defence organization, the Canadian Medical Protective Association, told the judge that the injured cancer patient’s expert from Indiana, U.S.A., was expecting too high a quality of care for diagnosing cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The trial judge rejected the doctor’s argument for second class care, finding that “examination of oral lesions is basic medicine in the western world no matter where one was trained or practised.” To accept the defence evidence “would be endorsing a different, and in this case lower, standard of patient care” for Newfoundland: para. 99.

This is the theme I heard throughout the Breast Cancer Testing Class Action: Newfoundland cancer patients should not expect high quality care, and a certain rate of error is acceptable. But as Dr. Brendan Mullen from Mount Sinai put it at the Cameron Inquiry hearings, an error is a 100% rate of error for the patient involved. For doctors to justify their errors by telling patients they should expect only second class care is an outrage.