John Haggie challenged on cancelled surgeries, says patient safety never at risk

Health Minister John Haggie, called out for a second straight day for his handling of surgical problems at Eastern Health, says patient safety has never been compromised.

'Issue has not gone away,' says Eastern Health CEO of surgical equipment problems

Health Minister John Haggie answers questions about surgical delays at Eastern Health during question period Thursday. (House of Assembly)

Health Minister John Haggie, called out for a second straight day for his handling of surgical problems at Eastern Health, says patient safety has never been compromised, and no emergency surgeries have ever been cancelled.

Haggie was repeatedly probed by Opposition Leader Paul Davis during Thursday's question period in the House of Assembly about what Davis described as a "dangerous situation" at the Health Sciences Centre on March 4.

Davis said orthopedic surgeons ran out of instruments because of the ongoing sterilization problem and were unable to perform emergency surgeries.

He added this very clearly jeopardized public safety.

Opposition Leader Paul Davis challenged Health Minister John Haggie for a second day Thursday for Haggie's handling of the surgical tool sterilization problem at Eastern Health. (CBC)

Davis repeatedly asked Minister Haggie if he knew about this, and when he planned to inform the public.

Haggie replied he was assured by the chief of surgery at Eastern Health that surgical tools were available for emergencies.

"Even if they run into a situation where they might not have (sterilized instruments), they had contingency plans," Haggie added.

He noted that operating rooms at St. Clare's Hospital are at 100 per cent for both elective and emergency surgeries, and "no emergency services at all have been cancelled during this entire exercise at the Health Sciences Centre."

Haggie also went on the offence, calling into question the opposition's ability to do basic research.

"Had the gentleman opposite and his team done their research and read beyond the first 140 characters they would have found the answer to that question," Haggie quipped in response to a query from Davis.

The "140 characters" remark was a reference to the character limit for a post on Twitter.

'We'll get to the bottom of this'

The debate followed a decision by orthopedic surgeons to suspend all elective surgeries for this week after facing a serious shortage of instruments last Friday after "dozens" of surgical tool kits were rejected because of staining issues.

We're doing everything we can.- David Diamond, CEO of Eastern Health

"This created a dangerous situation at the only trauma centre in the province," orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Moores stated in a letter to Eastern Health that was obtained by CBC News Wednesday.

Premier Dwight Ball acknowledged many patients have been affected by the delay of elective surgeries, and officials are doing everything possible to resolve the problem.

Ball said surgeries were proceeding "as scheduled" Thursday, but noted there were delays on Wednesday.

He added sterilization problems are showing up on both old and new surgical equipment, and officials continue to consult with health experts in other provinces to find answers.

"We'll get to the bottom of this," he said.

28 surgeries canceled this week

David Diamond says Eastern Health believes the cause of the staining on surgical tools has been mineral benefit. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said Thursday 28 elective surgeries at the Health Sciences Centre have been cancelled so far this week.

"Our issue has not gone away, so we're still on a day-to-day basis managing as we have been over the last three weeks and a bit," he said.  

"We feel we're making some headway in terms of identifying at least the immediate problem."

Diamond said he believes the staining on surgical tools, which has been causing cancellations for much of the past month, is the result of mineral buildup.

"The state and condition of our instruments is, we think, a major contributing factor, and certainly we need to address that in order to get out of the situation we're in," said Diamond.

Washing the stained tools by hand, he said, isn't producing the desired results.

"The results have been perhaps not as dramatic as we would have liked them to have been," he said.

"In order to be successful with handwashing, we would need several cycles."

Controlled experiments ongoing

Eastern Health is currently conducting several controlled tests, one of which would involve equipment being shipped to Toronto to undergo chemical cleaning.

We'll get to the bottom of this.- Premier Dwight Ball

"We have sent a small sample of our instruments away this week, and we just got them back last evening," said Diamond.

"They look pretty pristine, and we're now putting those instruments through our system as a test — a controlled test."

If successful, Diamond said Eastern Health will send more instruments to Toronto to be cleaned using the chemical process.

Clinical chief of surgery Dr. Doug Drover said orthopedic surgeons will continue to postpone elective surgeries until they know for sure the problem has been fixed.

"Nothing other than perfection," he said, would change their minds.

'We're doing everything we can'

Diamond added 50 per cent of the surgeries that have been postponed have since been completed, and another 25 per cent have been rescheduled.

He said the cost of fixing the stained equipment, including overtime fees and travel costs for patients and employees, is now expected to total around $3.3 million, up from last week's estimate of $2.7 million.

Once again, he apologized to anyone undergoing undue stress or complications because of the cancellations. 

"We're doing everything we can," he said.

"We remain confident that in the next short period of time we will get back to a normal operation."

With files from Mark Quinn


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