Final witness called at Menon inquiry after 42 days of hearings

The last witness at the inquiry looking into the work of former Miramichi, N.B., pathologist Dr. Rajgopa Menon testified Tuesday.

Justice Paul Creaghan to deliver report by Jan. 1

The last witness at the inquiry looking into the work of former Miramichi pathologist Dr. Rajgopal Menon testified Tuesday.

Dr. Edouard Hendricks, medical vice-president for New Brunswick's Health Region B, testified that recruiting doctors isn't always easy, but there are ways to improve the situation.

Hendricks said he'd like to see a clear and objective process for hiring doctors, with background checks and outside evaluation of the candidate.

He'd also like to see regular communication between hospitals and the New Brunswick College of Physicians and Surgeons, he said.

Menon, now 73, worked as a pathologist at the Miramichi Regional Health Authority from 1995 until February 2007, when he was suspended following complaints about incomplete diagnoses and delayed lab results.

Hendricks was the last of 56 witnesses called to testify before the inquiry headed by Justice Paul Creaghan, who will now write a report of his findings to be delivered to the New Brunswick government in December.

Creaghan will not assign any criminal responsibility for the misdiagnoses, but he is expected to make recommendations to the government on how to prevent an excessive number of misdiagnoses from happening again.

A wide review of Menon's work is still underway. More than 2,400 tests dating back to 1995 are being processed in Ottawa.

Health Minister Mike Murphy called the formal inquiry into the pathology work at the Miramichi hospital after an independent audit of 227 cases of breast and prostate cancer biopsies from 2004-05 found 18 per cent had incomplete results and three per cent had been misdiagnosed.

The audit of Menon's work was done last spring by Dr. Bruce Wright, a pathologist at the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, N.S., and Dr. Rosemary Henderson, a pathologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Their report said tremors in Menon's hands threw into question his ability to prepare tissue samples for diagnosis and that he continued to work while requiring surgery on both eyes to remove cataracts.

The inquiry, which began in May, had three phases and held hearings over 42 days.

The first phase of the inquiry heard from health officials and from Menon’s colleagues. Many testified there were problems with Menon's work, but there was confusion over the reporting process.

Notification took too long, cancer patient says

During the second phase of the inquiry, patients in Miramichi had their say.

Cancer patient Kathleen Waters questioned why it took so long to notify patients when questions about the pathology results first arose.

"With cancer, every minute counts. The luxury wasn't there to wait a year, a year and a half before this," Waters said in her testimony to the inquiry in June.

"I know things were being done, but patients, I think, had the right to know because they themselves, and the public also, could have moved this along a little sooner."

The third phase heard from expert witnesses. Some of them suggested better peer review would prevent a similar situation in the future.

Several problems surfaced again and again during the inquiry, including a lack of pathologists in New Brunswick, poor quality control and questions about the safety of smaller labs.

In May, Menon told the inquiry that illegible handwriting from doctors and a heavy workload made his job in the pathology lab at the Miramichi hospital extremely difficult at times.

Although Menon apologized to patients during his testimony, he said he was not aware of any errors in his work.

He later told CBC News that he took "practically zero" responsibility for any incomplete or incorrect results, and that he had become a scapegoat for the hospital administrators.