nl-jones-louise-20080215

Eastern Health's interim CEO Louise Jones sent a registered letter to breast cancer patients affected by faulty hormone receptor testing. ((CBC))

The health authority at the centre of Newfoundland and Labrador's cancer inquiry has sent a formal apology to hundreds of breast cancer patients.

In the registered letter, interim chief executive officer Louise Jones said Eastern Health was sorry for what happened to patients who received inaccurate estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor tests.

"We wish to say to you that we are sorry that we, as a health care organization, did not provide you the high quality patient care in relation to the ER/PR issue that you deserve and that we expect of ourselves," the letter says.

"We deeply regret any stress, pain, and anxiety felt by you and your family because of this issue."

Jones wrote that Eastern Health would have done many things differently if authority staff knew before what they know now.

Cancer patient Donna Howell said she was glad to receive the letter, even though she was disappointed to see that, once she opened the envelope, the letter inside was actually addressed to someone else.

"In light of all the things that have happened, they're still not being careful," Howell said.

nl-howell-donna-20080215

Patient Donna Howell said she was glad to receive the letter, though disappointed that hers was addressed to someone else. ((CBC))

You'd think they would put a little extra effort to make sure things were accurate and correct."

A judicial inquiry investigating the flawed hormone receptor tests has been told repeatedly that Eastern Health failed to communicate well with its patients, with some being missed altogether despite the authority's assurances to the contrary.

The written apology is the most detailed that Eastern Health has made. Last year, former chief executive officer George Tilley made a public apology, but for the confusion over the tests and for not having revealed more data earlier.

In March, Eastern Health board chair Joan Dawe opened her testimony at the Cameron inquiry with a verbal apology for "the pain and anxiety that patients and their families have endured."

Dawe's apology followed several days of testimony involving cancer patients, all of whom told the inquiry that they had never received an apology for what had happened to them.

Lab testing under scrutiny

Howell, who is now receiving chemotherapy, said the key thing for her is that the Cameron inquiry continue its work to determine what went wrong with the tests.

Justice Margaret Cameron's commission of inquiry is investigating what happened with hormone receptor tests at a St. John's pathology lab between 1997 and 2005, and then how officials handled the case afterwards.

In March, the Newfoundland and Labrador government said 383 patients had received incorrect results from the tests, which help determine whether a patient can benefit from the potent antihormonal therapy Tamoxifen.

Of those patients, 108 had died by March.