February 27, 2001  
By Vanessa Lu - Health Policy Reporter

The long-standing battle between Dr. Nancy Olivieri and the Hospital for Sick Children is far from over.

This time, the fight is over key documents the hospital is refusing to turn over to a University of Toronto panel overseeing grievances filed on behalf of Olivieri, her supporters and the University of Toronto Faculty Association.

At a news conference yesterday, Olivieri accused the hospital of stonewalling by refusing to turn over documents related to a dispute involving the drug firm Apotex.

For nearly five years, Olivieri has been locked in a battle with the hospital after its administrators failed to support her in the dispute.

The controversy began in 1996, when a study Olivieri was conducting on the drug deferiprone was cancelled by Apotex after she threatened to tell patients of concerns she had about its safety and effectiveness.

Apotex maintains the drug, which is used to treat thalassemia, a rare genetic blood disorder, is safe.

Under an agreement reached in January, 1999, Olivieri's primary appointment moved from Sick Kids to the Toronto Hospital, but she retained privileges and leads the hemoglobinopathy program at Sick Kids. She is also a professor at the University of Toronto.

The grievances, filed in late 1998, allege the academic freedom of Olivieri and four other U of T medical professors was interfered with by the university's failure to support Olivieri when Apotex try to prevent her from publishing her research findings.

"What is the hospital afraid of? What is the hospital trying to prevent here?" Olivieri asked at yesterday's news conference. "We're asking the hospital to co-operate with us. We're simply asking them to put on the table what we have put on the table, volumes of documents that will show what really happened in the Apotex-University of Toronto-Sick Kids affair."

Cyndy DeGiusti, spokesperson for the hospital, said it is refusing to hand over the documents because it considers itself a third party to the grievance hearing that involves only the university and the faculty association.

"The hospital is no way involved in that grievance. Some of the information that has been requested is confidential and relates to specific staff issues between the hospital and one of its employees," she said.

Last Friday, the hospital filed an application with the Superior Court of Ontario asking the court to rule on whether there is jurisdiction for the request.

U of T spokesperson Sue Bloch-Nevitte said the university is on record as supporting the faculty association's request for documents.

"It's well within the grievance panel's right to subpoena those documents . . . The issue now rests with the hospital," she said.

"The case is about the alleged harassment and punishment of all the physicians for having spoken out on Dr. Olivieri's behalf and for having demanded a full inquiry into the matter," said their lawyer, Michael Mitchell.

Although the hearing officially began yesterday, Mitchell said that without the hospital documents, the hearing, which is expected to last for months, would be delayed.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Toronto Star