The body that regulates doctors in Alberta has ordered a Calgary clinic to stop charging patients for sterilized medical instruments.

In March, the Richmond Square Medical Centre implemented a fee of $5 for fewer than five sterile instruments and $10 for five or more that are used on patients during their visits. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta ordered the practice stopped after inquiries by CBC News.

"Having sterile instruments is such a fundamental need in health care that I'm surprised. What are they going to be doing, charging us for cleaning rooms?" patient Kathie Booth said Tuesday.


The Richmond Square Medical Centre had implemented a fee for sterile instruments used on patients during their visits. ((Peter Akman/CBC))

Gary Mummery, the owner of the southwest clinic, told CBC News the fees were introduced to offset the cost of Alberta's new sterilization procedures.

Under provincial standards updated this year by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, clinics and doctors' offices must sterilize their equipment over a 48-hour period, up from six hours.

The tougher rules were brought in after health officials investigating a superbug outbreak in a Vegreville hospital discovered that medical equipment was improperly sterilized.

The new regulations have meant new costs for all clinics. Dr. Rick Ward's northwest office, which has not introduced any new fees, has purchased a new sterilization machine and new instruments, but his practice still sometimes finds itself short.

"Patients coming in to see their physician may not be able to have routine procedures done ... because we physically don't have the instruments clean to do it," said registered nurse Cathy Noullette, who works in Ward's office.

Charging fee not allowed

Ward, the president of the Alberta College of Family Physicians, said he supports anything that increases patient safety, but the increased cost is squeezing doctors.

"The unintended consequence of these new regulations is increased time for sterilization, increased need for more equipment, really an increase in overhead costs. The problem is and the challenge is, there hasn't been financial support that has come down for making these changes," he said.

An hour after CBC News phoned the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta on Tuesday to ask about the Richmond Square Medical Centre's fee for sterilizing medical instruments, a spokesman said the practice is not allowed.

"Clinics should not be charging patients a separate fee for sterilizing medical instruments. We have spoken to the clinic in question and they will no longer be charging patients a fee for this service," the college's spokeswoman, Kelly Eby, said in a statement.

Mummery said his clinic will be reimbursing all of the fees collected over the last six weeks from between 50 and 70 patients.