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Coronavirus: Health minister’s comments ‘outrageous,’ says Winnipeg doctors

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Manitoba health minister Cameron Friesen is under fire after questioning the motive of a letter doctors penned to the province. Brittany Greenslade reports – Nov 4, 2020

Winnipeg doctors are hitting back after comments made by Manitoba’s health minister regarding the province’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Earlier this week, Minister Cameron Friesen called the timing of two letters signed by hundreds of Manitoba doctors into question, suggesting they came at the perfect time to create chaos.

“I wonder at the motivation to provide that letter to generate it when it would have max effect in causing chaos in the system,” Friesen said Tuesday during a committee meeting at the Manitoba Legislature.

Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, who works in intensive care at both St. Boniface Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, told 680 CJOB the letters were an accurate description of a very serious situation, without any political motives whatsoever.

“The situation out there is dire right now,” Jacobsohn said.

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“There appears to be, at least for those of us on the front lines, a paucity or deficiency in resources in some areas. The intention of this was not motivated by malice or anything sinister.”

Read more: NDP slams Manitoba health minister over comments that province’s doctors ‘creating chaos’

Jacobsohn said the province’s doctors want to be part of the solution, and that the minister’s accusations are way off-base.

“[The sending of the letters] was to try and vocalize what we were seeing on the front lines,” he said.

“We want to contribute… to suggest to us and all those that are busy caring for patients, that there’s some kind of ulterior motive, is outrageous.”

Read the letter:

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More than 330 Manitoba doctors signed letters saying the pandemic is spiralling out of control in this province, citing rising case numbers and multiple outbreaks at long-term care homes.

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“It comes from a place of true deep concern of how we will get through this as least scathed as possible,” Internal Medicine Doctor Jessica Cudmore told Global News.

Friesen suggested Tuesday, however, that “the people in charge have got this” and that the province should stay the course.

“I have to wonder about the motivation of those doctors, who signed that letter. I know many of them, and I will talk to many of them — and I get it. They’re scared, they want the best for their patients, and I absolutely agree,” Friesen said.

Read more: Premier Brian Pallister asks Manitobans to volunteer at coronavirus test sites

 

Cudmore and her colleagues said the minister’s comments were disheartening.

“We’re all worried about our ability to be able to provide the best care that we can,” Dr. Cudmore said.

“It certainly felt, you know, when your motivation is being questioned in a profession where we are, at our core, first doing no harm… it was disheartening to hear that be undermined.”

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The minister’s comments drew widespread criticism, including from the opposition NDP.

On Wednesday NDP Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara called on Friesen to apologize and said the minister was “gaslighting” health-care workers.

“This minister is failing. He’s failing Manitobans, he’s failing our medical professionals who need his support,” Asagwara said at the Manitoba Legislature.

“Why won’t the minister apologize for the harm he has caused our health care professionals?”

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said Tuesday night that Friesen should be listening to the advice of doctors, rather than questioning their motives.

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“That the Minister of Health would question the motivations of Manitoba doctors — who put their lives on the line every day — is more than disrespectful. It’s an attempt to undermine confidence in our front-line health workers and it is yet another comment from this minister that disregards public health science. Manitoba doctors and nurses are motivated by saving lives.”

Click to play video 'Health Minister Cameron Friesen criticized for comments about Manitoba doctors' Health Minister Cameron Friesen criticized for comments about Manitoba doctors
Health Minister Cameron Friesen criticized for comments about Manitoba doctors – Nov 4, 2020

The Minister did not apologize and Global News was told he was ‘unavailable’ for interviews Wednesday.

“While I stand by the words I said yesterday the timing is a challenge to me right now,” Friesen said in the chamber.

“Because right now, we really believe that Manitobans need reassurances. They really do.”

Premier Brian Pallister supported Friesen, and said the minister was leading the charge to expand hospital capacity, testing and other services.

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–With files from Skylar Peters and The Canadian Press