An Ontario doctor prohibited from prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID-19 has launched a telehealth service offering the unapproved treatment to Ontarians to treat the virus, Global News can reveal.
Dr Patrick Phillips, a family doctor who is the subject of several investigations by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), is the director of a new telehealth service based in Ontario that is offering ivermectin, an antiparasitic treatment not approved by Health Canada to treat COVID-19.
The service, called Canadian Covid TeleHealth Inc (CCTH), was launched by members of the Canadian Covid Care Alliance (CCCA), a website promoting information at odds with public health advice, which also features new initiatives from at least two other Ontario health professionals with COVID-related licence restrictions.
But Phillips’ involvement, as well as the existence of the service, is not breaking any provincial laws.
It comes as the regulatory body and province spar about how to deal with physicians operating in a medical grey area. Both the CPSO and Ministry of Health say investigating a company, such as the CCTH, is not their responsibility.
The CPSO says it has been asking the ministry for legislative changes to help it deal with complaints about doctors since 2019.
Meanwhile, the doctors at the centre of the investigations are launching new ventures in order to share unverified health information and administer unproven COVID-19 treatments, which escape the reach of the province.
Telehealth service launched this week
Global News recently detailed the emergence of the CCCA, a self-described group of “Canadian doctors, scientists and health care practitioners committed to providing independent science-based evidence to empower Canadians.”
The website does not identify the doctors affiliated with the service.
But the CCCA’s listed address on their Corporations Canada page matches that of Toronto physician Ira Bernstein. Bernstein has spoken in videos about being the founder of the CCCA, treating patients with ivermectin and his intention to launch a telehealth service.
That telehealth service has now launched.
On Wednesday, a newsletter was sent to CCCA subscribers announcing that the Canadian Covid TeleHealth Inc, a COVID-19 treatment and prevention service, was open for patient registrations.
The newsletter said the telehealth service was launched by CCCA members and instructed people to only share the registration link “with others whom you know would be friendly towards what the CCTH is doing.”
The CCTH’s Corporations Canada registered address is the same as the CCCA’s: Bernstein’s Toronto medical practice.
Bernstein declined to answer questions for this story.
Patient questionnaire touts ivermectin use
The CCTH’s website’s homepage makes no mention of ivermectin. But information on a patient questionnaire for the service, found on its listing on the CCCA website and in a link sent as part of its newsletter, falsely claims there is currently no approved out-patient therapies for COVID-19 and then details ivermectin as the “off-label” medication it offers.
Canada recently approved the antiviral drug Paxlovid to treat COVID-19 at home.
The CCTH’s Canada Corporations profile features the names of three directors: Edward Leyton, David Ross and Phillips.
Ross, an accountant based in New Brunswick, is also the president and co-founder of the CCCA. His LinkedIn states he is also a member of the Research Ethics Board of New Brunswick’s Horizon Health Network — one of the two health-care authorities in the province.
Horizon Health Network did not know if Ross was still an active member of the board.
Leyton is a psychotherapist specializing in holistic medicine and alternative therapy. According to his CPSO listing, he retired his registration in 2018 but came back less than two years later, in April 2020.
Ross and Leyton did not respond to questions from Global News.
Phillips' actions 'exposed patients to harm'
Phillips’ medical licence was restricted in September, for what the CPSO labelled “disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional conduct” in relation to his comments on social media against COVID-19 vaccines and public health restrictions, including one comment comparing Canadian COVID restrictions to Nazi Germany.
A CPSO spokesperson said Phillips met the threshold for licence restrictions because his actions had “exposed patients to harm or injury and urgent action was required.”
Another investigation of Phillips followed after he posted a tranche of allegedly confidential CPSO documents on his investigation on Twitter, where he had amassed tens of thousands of followers. His Twitter account was later suspended.
An Ontario Superior Court hearing recently ruled Phillips must comply with CPSO investigations, but said he could publish the “confidential” documents, as long as he didn’t identify certain staff who were previously targeted by his followers.
Allegations of Phillips’s professional misconduct have been referred to the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Discipline Tribunal.
Phillips’ restrictions prohibits him from prescribing ivermectin, fluvoxamine (an antidepressant) and atorvastatin (medication to help lower cholesterol) for COVID-19. He is also prohibited from providing medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, mask requirements and testing.
His lawyer, Michael Alexander, speaking on his behalf, says Phillips has “never issued a prescription for ivermectin through this service nor has he issued prescriptions of any kind since his licence was restricted by the College.”
When asked about the telehealth service administering ivermectin, Alexander said: ”The CCTH does not control what its doctors may prescribe; that decision is reserved to the practitioner-patient relationship.”
It’s important to note, Phillips’ restrictions do not prevent him from launching a company where other doctors prescribe ivermectin. Furthermore, the CPSO cannot investigate the CCTH, because it is responsible for overseeing the conduct of individual physicians, not companies.
The CPSO says the ability to investigate companies lies with public health units and the Ministry of Health. Toronto Public Health referred all questions to the ministry.
But the Ministry of Health directly contradicted this statement, with spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene stating that physicians are accountable to the CPSO “regardless of their involvement in a company.”
Hilkene did not answer specific questions, including on whether legislation should be changed to account for this medical grey area.
“Regardless of the nature of the disciplinary measures applied, it is expected that physicians abide by any terms, conditions and limitations applied to their practice certificate. If they do not, once it became aware of the situation, the CPSO has an obligation to investigate the matter to determine if disciplinary actions were required,” Hilkene said.
Authorities advise against ivermectin for treating Covid
The CCTH’s own website does not offer a way to book its services, just a price list of the treatments available: COVID prevention ($149), early COVID treatment ($199) and a “Complex Covid consultation” ($399).
The only way to book seems to be via the link in the CCCA newsletter and its listing on the CCCA website, where it is listed at the top of its “medical care service providers” page.
The intake questionnaire for both its early and complex COVID-19 treatments features a consent form for the treatment of Covid-19 with ivermectin.
The disclaimer acknowledges the treatment “has not yet been fully assessed and approved by Health Canada.” The form claims there are 59 peer-reviewed clinical studies in favour of ivermectin treatment for COVID-19, lists its side effects and then points people towards a link from Health BC for more information on the approved use of ivermectin in Canada. The link, however, takes you to Health BC’s COVID-19 home page and offers no mention of ivermectin.
Global News asked CCTH for the links to the 59 studies but did not hear back.
The term “off-label” refers to any use of a drug that has not been approved by Health Canada for its desired purpose.
There must be strong scientific evidence for its use for another purpose and certain criteria must also be met, such as obtaining a detailed patient history report, having an “appropriate consent discussion of the potential risks and benefits” and determining “if the use is in keeping with current standards of practice,” according to the Canadian Medical Protective Association.
Social media amplifies 'poorly evidenced claims of efficacy'
Currently, Health Canada, the European Medicines Agency and the FDA, among other public health agencies, advise against the prescription of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
A recent report from the Alberta Health Services Scientific Advisory Group states that many studies in favour of its use have significant flaws.
It quotes a study in Nature, that says: “The enormous impact of COVID-19 and the consequent urgent need to demonstrate the clinical efficacy of new therapeutic options provides fertile ground for even poorly evidenced claims of efficacy to be amplified, both in the scientific literature and on social media.
“This context can lead to the rapid translation of almost any apparently favorable conclusion from a relatively weak trial or set of trials into widespread clinical practice and public policy.”
A McGill University study in 2012 stated that the prescription of off-label drugs is suspected to be a factor in preventable adverse drug events, such as in the 1990s when fen-phen — the unapproved combination of fenfluramine and phentermine as an obesity treatment — caused patients cardiac valve damage. Or the use of tiagabine, a drug approved to treat seizures, to treat pain conditions, which induced seizures.
The CPSO says drugs such as ivermectin “have an intended use and over-prescribing them could lead to drug shortages and will compromise care for other patients who need them.”
CCCA promotes more Ontario doctors with restrictions
Many other familiar faces appear on the CCCA’s medical care service providers list.
Listed under the CCTH is a service called Angel Heart Medical, which appears to actually be called Angel’s Heart Medical, according to its website.
It was founded by Phillips and Dr Christopher Hassell, the only two doctors in Ontario with restrictions on their licences prohibiting them prescribing ivermectin in relation to COVID-19.
Hassell stepped away from his practice at York Medical Clinic for allegedly issuing vaccine medical exemptions for a fee in September last year, according to a Toronto Star article.
Hassell is also restricted from providing medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, mask requirements and testing.
A notice about Phillips’ and Hassell’s restrictions, which the doctors are required by the CPSO to display, is described as a “badge of honour” on Angel’s Heart’s website.
It also describes the COVID vaccine as “experimental gene therapy.”
The organization offers everything from medical care to house cleaning, financial counselling and home schooling.
Hassell did not respond to questions from Global News.
Another organization listed on the CCCA medical care service providers list, directly below Angel’s Heart Medical, is Project Hope.
Project Hope was founded by Owen Sound doctor Rochagne Kilian.
Kilian had her certificate of registration suspended late last year after she was alleged to have provided vaccine exemptions through a website called Enable Air, which works with “licensed physicians” to grant vaccination and mask exemptions for an undisclosed fee.
Authorities shirk responsibility on investigations
The CPSO launched legal proceedings against Kilian and three other doctors — including Phillips — late last year, in order to force them to comply with investigations into their conduct.
Kilian’s hearing was postponed until February due to her lawyer, Rocco Galati, being hospitalized.
Project Hope is described on its website as a “community-based initiative to establish an Integrative Medical Facility for disenfranchised patients and medical professionals.
Her husband Abrie Kilian, speaking on her behalf, said Project Hope was not associated with the CCCA and “does not provide medical services.” He said the initiative was not registered but was “definitely” still going ahead.
Currently, more than 40 physicians in Ontario are being investigated by the CPSO for COVID-related conduct.
A spokesperson reiterated that the CPSO does not have the authority to investigate companies such as the CCTH, but they remain “particularly concerned about any instances where physicians may be abusing their unique positions of trust in order to dissuade the public from receiving vaccines that are proven to help fight the virus.”