19 March 2008

Breast cancer inquiry opens

The Cameron Inquiry into breast cancer testing at Eastern Health started public hearings today, after a weather delay on Tuesday.

Hearings are being webcast (check the link above, under "Schedule and Witnesses").

The commission is interpreting its terms of reference to focus almost exclusively on the medical aspects of the issue. That's particularly interesting when it comes to Term (f):

Term (f) directs that recommendations be made as to how matters of this nature should be handled.  Though not exclusively, Part II will be largely directed to providing information to the Commission which would assist in making such recommendations.  To that end, six experts have been engaged to prepare papers. The papers, which are directed to aspects of the obligation to disclose, will be posted on the website in March, 2008.

That term relates to making recommendations for policy on any implications flowing from the other terms.

There isn't anything obvious from the schedule of witnesses released thus far or from the experts engaged for the second phase of the inquiry that would deal with Term (d):

(d) inquire into whether, once detected, the responsible authorities communicated in an appropriate and timely manner with the general public and internally within the health system about the issues and circumstances surrounding the change in test results and the new testing procedures;

That's the term which appeared, on first reading, to include Eastern Health's public relations operations. Apparently it doesn't. Most of the disclosure discussion planned for phase two examines only the legal and medical aspects of the question.

No paper appears to have been commissioned from him but the commission will hear from a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia on the role of the media in disclosure. That's interesting since the public relations function - identified in Term (d) - only becomes an issue of media ethics once a management decision has been taken on whether to disclose, how to disclose and what to disclose.

It will be hard to determine if the responsible authorities communicated in an appropriate and timely manner if no one providing evidence or opinion to the commission has experience in the the management of communications.