The chairwoman of the largest health authority in Newfoundland and Labrador apologized Wednesday for the ordeal faced by breast cancer patients who were given inaccurate laboratory results.


Joan Dawe apologized Wednesday on behalf of Eastern Health over inaccurate lab results. ((CBC))

Joan Dawe, who chairs the board of Eastern Health, told a judicial inquiry in St. John's the authority was "very sorry for the pain and anxiety that patients and their families have endured."

"For this, Eastern Health apologizes."

Dawe was testifying at a judicial inquiry that is examining how hundreds of breast cancer patients received flawed results in hormone receptor tests, which are used to guide physicians in determining the best course of treatment.

The inquiry has been told that 108 patients who were given wrong results have died.

"This inquiry is about breast cancer patients, some of whom didn't get the treatment they might have if they got a different result," Dawe told Justice Margaret Cameron.

"It was important to hear stories of patients and families … I'm deeply concerned when I hear even one person affected as a result of ER-PR testing," she said, referring to the tests involving estrogen and progesterone receptors, which are at the core of the hormone receptor tests.

Confidential memo likened advocates to bullies

The apology comes on the heels of the release at the inquiry of a May 2007 memo in which the authority's then-communications director likened prominent cancer advocates to "schoolyard bullies."


Former Eastern Health CEO George Tilley apologized last year, but about confusion over lab testing. ((CBC))

Days after the memo, the former chief executive officer of Eastern Health, George Tilley, issued an apology — but mostly for the confusion in the public eye about the then-widening scandal over hormone receptor testing.

Days after that, Health Minister Ross Wiseman called the inquiry that began hearing evidence last week.

So far, a number of patients and their widowers have testified about their cases, with several saying they would like to hear an apology from Eastern Health.

Dawe said that "many representatives" of Eastern Health will testify at the inquiry about testing, patient care, retesting and how results were communicated.

"We believe that those persons carried out their responsibilities to the best of their abilities," she said.

"Their motivation first and foremost was to provide the very best possible patient care. That remains Eastern Health's objective today," she said.

"I can assure you that Eastern Health is totally committed to this inquiry, and is fully participating in the process."

Apology not enough: cancer patient

Minnie Hoyles, the only cancer patient in the room at the time of Dawe's apology, said she appreciated the gesture, but said it came late and means too little.


Minnie Hoyles said she appreciated Joan Dawe's apology, but said it was not strong enough. ((CBC))

"If the apology is just to say, 'We did the best we could,' then that to my mind is not enough of an apology to me," Hoyles said.

Dawe approached Hoyles directly, and told her she was speaking directly to her with her words.

Even so, Hoyles said she does not believe that Eastern Health did the best it could, and she said she expects the inquiry will back up her views in its final report.

Hoyles also said some patients have moved on, and are also waiting for a class action lawsuit that was certified by Newfoundland Supreme Court last year.