Nova Scotia’s premier and minister of health vowed Thursday to act quickly to make sure the province is ready to deal with widespread infections of H1N1 influenza virus.
Premier Darrell Dexter and Health Minister Maureen MacDonald responded to a report by Nova Scotia Auditor General Jacques Lapointe, which found the province did not have enough medical supplies to deal with a swine flu pandemic.
The Thursday release of Lapointe's report was four months early so the government would have time to rectify the problems before the fall flu season hits.
Lapointe urged Dexter to name a lead department to command and co-ordinate the province’s response to a pandemic, which MacDonald said she will immediately set about to do.
"Those conversations will be starting today because of the urgency with which the auditor general has identified that important issue," MacDonald said Thursday.
There were 33 recommendations made in the auditor general’s report, which found a lack of leadership had led to an inadequate stockpile of medical supplies to protect health-care workers and to respond effectively to the swine-flu pandemic.
Lapointe also said the Health Department and nine district health authorities had dropped the ball by not ordering enough surgical masks and gloves to protect health-care workers or stockpiled enough Tamiflu two years ago, under spending by $6 million.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, said the province is working on that.
"We’re in the process of acquiring the necessary supplies of masks and immunization equipment. There’s the process through the consultant’s report which will be coming in September," he said Thursday.
"We have lots of people working extremely hard to move these forward. They’re complex issues and they don’t happen overnight."
Lapointe found that Nova Scotia recently tried to order one million surgical masks, and the supplier said it would be 12 to 18 months before that order could be filled.
Another recommendation urged unionized health-care workers and government to sign what's called a good neighbour protocol to deal with possible staffing problems during a pandemic.
It's an agreement that defines what type of actions an employer can take in a public health emergency that may override existing union contracts.
"A third of the people may be off sick and they may need to bring in volunteers or outsiders or reassign people from one job to another job," Lapointe said. "A lot of these things may conflict with some aspects of union contracts. This agreement deals with that ahead of time."
Union officials and the health minister said the good neighbour agreement is ready to be signed.
The first mass vaccinations against the flu will likely begin across the province by mid-November, Strang said.
The province is predicting that one in three Nova Scotians may contract the flu.
A Cape Breton woman who worked in a nursing home died last week from swine flu.
There have been 456 confirmed cases of the virus in Nova Scotia since the outbreak began in April. Ten people have been treated in hospital.