250 surgeries delayed over sterilization issues at Eastern Health

Eastern Health says all elective surgeries scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in St. John's will be postponed due to sterilization concerns in hospital operating rooms.

Health authority flags 'sporadic incidences' in which equipment didn't pass visual inspection

Dr. Oscar Howell, Eastern Health's Vice President responsible for Medical Services, says discolouration was repeatedly found on the towels lining surgical trays. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

Eastern Health says 250 elective surgeries scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in St. John's are being postponed due to sterilization concerns in hospital operating rooms. 

"These surgeries are suspended due to concerns with the sterilization of reprocessed surgical equipment used in the operating rooms," the health authority said in a release Saturday afternoon.

Eastern Health said it is "not aware of any harm to patients as a result of this situation," and all non-urgent surgeries have been postponed as a precaution. 

'Discolouration' on towels

According to Eastern Health, the problem was first found during a "routine visual inspection" at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital when "a visible stain was noticed on equipment by surgical staff."

"On February 4th at St. Clare's, we noticed some discolouration on some of the towels within some of our surgical instrument trays," said Dr. Oscar Howell, Eastern Health's Vice President responsible for Medical Services.

"The following week, we noticed it on some trays ... in the Health Sciences Centre," he said. 

As the week went on, Howell said, more cases arose. 

Eastern Health reported "sporadic incidences" in which sterile devices did not pass visual inspections at St. Clare's, the Health Sciences Centre and the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre.  

"That caused us to stop and reflect on what is happening here," Howell said.

The health authority said all items were "rejected for use" and sent back to its processing department. A review is being conducted to determine the potential cause. 

Similar instances have also been reported at the Heath Sciences Centre and the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's. (CBC)

"We take no chances with patient safety and will only use surgical products that meet safety standards."

Patients told Friday

Howell said patients with procedures scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were notified on Friday night. 

"Part of what our concern was that we had a storm coming and there might be many people on the road and trying to get ahead of the storm," he said.

"We didn't want them to make that trek if, on Monday and Tuesday, we were going to have to tell them that we couldn't do their surgery."

In the meantime, Eastern Health said it is "looking into other arrangements to acquire sterile equipment so that elective surgeries can resume as soon as possible."

The postponement extends to rural facilities as well, Howell said. 

Eastern Health is using sterilization facilities throughout the Avalon, Burin and Bonavista peninsulas to truck "surgical equipment through the region to make sure we have adequate amounts."

Howell said emergency surgeries and procedures will not be affected. 

With files from Meghan McCabe