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Doctors to politicians: increase the independence of New Brunswick’s Medical Officers of Health

The New Brunswick Medical Society sent a letter to all provincial political parties this morning, asking them to support legislative change to ensure Medical Officers of Health have a legislatively defined responsibility to speak to their patients – all New Brunswickers.

“Physicians need to be able to speak to patients about matters related to their health, independent from other views,” said Dr Lynn Hansen, President of the New Brunswick Medical Society. “All physicians should feel supported in doing exactly that – but our current legislation doesn’t explicitly protect public health physicians from political interference.”

Public health physicians are in a unique position as they work directly for government. They are the medical specialists who can enforce quarantines, organise vaccination programs, detain individuals, enter premises, shut down restaurants, remove documents, and monitor water systems. By definition, the patients of New Brunswick’s Medical Officers of Health are actually all New Brunswickers, but our laws do not match those of other provinces when it comes to ensuring they are able to independently speak to the public on health matters.

“Most people know Medical Officers of Health in their emergency role, such as protecting us from pandemics or addressing infectious diseases,” said Dr Hansen. “But in 2014, New Brunswickers are not facing cholera. Instead, we need to know about the health impacts of things that can affect our 21st-century lifestyles. Medical Officers of Health need the same ability to speak to the public on these issues as they have had on health crises.”

Legislative recommendations proposed by the province’s doctors would echo those already in place in British Columbia, Ontario, and the Government of Canada. In these provinces, Medical Officers of Health can speak to the public about health concerns of their own investigation, prepare annual reports, and have legislative independence from political interference in public reporting.

“Medical Officers of Health are incredibly well-trained individuals who must use evidence in their recommendations to patients,” said Dr Hansen. “Just as a family doctor must deliver both good and bad news to patients in their offices, so must Medical Officers of Health be free to recommend action to all New Brunswickers.”

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Founded in 1867, the New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) is the professional association representing all physicians in New Brunswick. It is a provincial division of the Canadian Medical Association. Its twin goals are to represent and serve physicians, and advocate for the health of New Brunswickers. Over a hundred New Brunswick doctors sit on its Board and Committees, representing the 1600 doctors in the province.

NBMS Contact: Andrew MacLean, New Brunswick Medical Society, 462 4623 - amaclean@nbms.nb.ca