Vancouver surgeries postponed by drug shortage miscommunication

Two major Vancouver hospitals cancelled elective heart surgeries this week following a miscommunication about a countrywide drug shortage.

Two major Vancouver hospitals cancelled elective heart surgeries this week following a miscommunication about a countrywide drug shortage.    

Vancouver General and St. Paul's hospitals postponed the nine scheduled cardiac surgeries Tuesday over fears they could run out of the critical medication protamine and not have enough for emergency cases.

Protamine is the only drug anesthesiologists have to reverse the effects of a blood thinner given during heart bypass surgery.

A spokesman says it turned out the cancellations weren't necessary, but had occurred because of a miscommunication about how much protamine was actually on hand.

Gavin Wilson of Vancouver Coastal Health says cardiac surgeries have now resumed and those put on hold are being rescheduled.

Wilson says the hospitals have about five weeks' supply of protamine and supplier Sandoz has said it will be increasing shipments of the drug in the coming weeks.

Sandoz Canada, the primary supplier of protamine, has cut production of commonly used anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics and cancer drugs while it upgrades manufacturing standards at its Boucherville, Que., plant to meet concerns raised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The plant, which makes 90 per cent of the injectable drugs used in Canada, also experienced a fire during the upgrade process and is now in the process of cleaning up, the company said.

The disruption in production has led to fears that patients will suffer because hospitals will be increasingly unable to access drugs critical for surgery and treatment regimens.