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Island Health disputes B.C. doctor's claims that suspension is in retaliation to public criticism

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A Port Hardy, B.C., doctor has been temporarily barred from practicing emergency medicine in the Island Health region.

Dr. Alex Nataros had his ER privileges suspended on Feb. 2 the same day he publicly called for the resignation of a senior Island Health leader.

Nataros claims Island Health is trying to muzzle him and sully his reputation, while the health authority says his suspension stems from concerns over patient safety.

Nataros says his suspension has other doctors scrambling to staff the two emergency departments that he works at in Port Hardy and Salt Spring Island, B.C.

"It is undeserved, it is cruel, it is having significant personal and professional ramifications on my life as a physician [who] just wants to provide care to my patients," he told CTV News on Wednesday.

CTV News asked B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix if Nataros was being disciplined for being critical of the health system.

"No, that would never happen," said Dix.

In a rare move, Island Health's chief medical health officer, Dr. Ben Williams, addressed the employee matter.

"Because of Dr. Nataros' misleading statements, because he has made this issue public in a very false way, I have to provide this information to you," he told CTV News.

He says the suspension comes as Island Health investigates a patient complaint, and after it had received concerns from other members of the local care team about patient safety.

Williams also says his decision to suspend Nataros' emergency department privileges was made before he was aware that the North Island doctor was calling for his resignation, and that it did not influence the matter.

Nataros says he believes the patient complaint was "coerced" and written by an Island Health official.

Island Health denies that claim, and Nataros says he has hired a lawyer and will speak publicly about the matter again on Friday in Victoria.

As for the hole left in the emergency department in Port Hardy, Island Health says all shifts that Nataros was scheduled to work have been filled by other physicians.

While the root of exactly what happened remains unclear, the result is one less doctor working in emergency medicine in the North Island in an already short-staffed system.

Island Health says Nataros' suspension is in effect until a full investigation into the patient safety complaint is completed.

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