$1.3M settlement approved in Miramichi class action over unsterilized biopsy forceps

A court has approved a settlement of nearly $1.3 million in a class-action lawsuit against a New Brunswick hospital over the use of unsterilized biopsy forceps on women over a 14-year period.

Nearly 2,500 women who underwent colposcopies at hospital clinic from 1999 to 2013 are eligible

In 2013, the Miramichi Regional Hospital discovered its colposcopy clinic had not sterilized forceps used for biopsies in accordance with the longtime standard in North America.

A court has approved a settlement of nearly $1.3 million in a class-action lawsuit against a New Brunswick hospital over the use of unsterilized biopsy forceps on women over a 14-year period.

Lawyer Ray Wagner said individual payments will be between $350 and $1,000, depending on the number of women who submit claims.

"We're talking about 2,497 individuals," he said Tuesday. "Some of those people unfortunately have passed away since then, so the numbers will decline from that amount."

Wagner said the Horizon Health Network has 20 days in which to provide him with the full list of individuals affected.​

In 2013, the Miramichi Regional Hospital urged the affected women to get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV after discovering the problem.

At the time, Horizon CEO John McGarry said that while the forceps used for colposcopies were sterilized at the end of every day, some forceps were only cleaned and disinfected before being reused during the day.

A colposcopy is a procedure used to examine the cervix, vagina and vulva to detect cervical cancer.

McGarry said the problem began in May 1999, when the clinic started reusing biopsy forceps without sterilizing them in order to handle patient load.

Compensation notices will be mailed

Lawyer Ray Wagner said no woman one has come forward saying she contracted an illness. (CBC)

Wagner said once his Halifax law firm, Wagners, receives the full list of individuals, it will send notices to each one.

"Within 60 days of the actual mailing out of that form, anybody that is interested in claiming compensation should send that notice back to ensure that they are included in the compensation group," he said.

About $873,000 will be distributed to class members, with the rest going to legal fees and class administration fees for the company that's going to administer the distribution of funds.

The settlement is not an admission of guilt by the hospital or health authority and none of the allegations in the suit have been proven in court.

Not just about compensation

Documents obtained in 2014 under access-to-information laws showed that health authority officials deliberated for three months about whether to inform the public about the unsterilized forceps.

The documents said the officials spent weeks trying to assess the risk to patients. In the end, it was decided the information would be released and a news conference was held.

It's also about behaviour modification to ensure people in health care who are administering these systems do it in the appropriate manner.- Ray Wagner, lawyer

McGarry urged the affected women to be tested, but stressed that the risk of infection was extremely low, even without sterilization.

Wagner said Tuesday no one has come forward to say they contracted anything.

He said the case is about more than just getting a financial settlement.

"It's not just about compensation for those individuals who have concern about whether they contracted an illness or not, but it's also about behaviour modification to ensure people in health care who are administering these systems do it in the appropriate manner," he said.