Organ transplant program not in disarray, minister says, following patient complaint

The province's health minister says a police officer who waited months for a kidney transplant due to staffing issues at Eastern Health is an isolated case.

Health Minister John Haggie says he believes man waiting months for kidney an isolated case

Shane Burridge, who's currently off on sick leave from the RCMP, said he's facing issues with his care due to Eastern Health not properly backfilling the position of transplant co-ordinator. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The health minister says he's not aware of anyone else having trouble receiving an organ transplant, following a CBC News report detailing a man's struggle to have his kidney replaced due to staffing issues within Eastern Health.

Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie responded to CBC's report about a St. Philip's, N.L., police officer waiting on a kidney transplant.

These people are in demand. We were looking for a specific skill set.- Minister John Haggie

The man, Shane Burridge, said Eastern Health had failed to hire a transplant co-ordinator in a timely manner, which left him relying on dialysis to stay alive. The position was vacant for six months, according to Eastern Health, but has since been filled.

"My understanding is that the individual who occupied that role decided at short notice to leave," Haggie told reporters at the House of Assembly Tuesday, following Question Period.

"Two kidney-trained nurses from the dialysis centre covered the role between them" while the employee was off work, he added.

Haggie said it took time to find a replacement.

"These people are in demand," he said. "We were looking for a specific skill set."

Travel for transplants

Burridge was initially waiting for a kidney under a regional program, which supplies organs from deceased donors.

To increase his chances of receiving a kidney sooner, he also applied to the national Living Donor Paired Exchange Program, which is run by the Canadian Blood Services.

Burridge told CBC News his wife had sent all the right papers to Eastern Health's transplant co-ordinator to speed up the process, but they ended up sitting on a desk.

Haggie said that program generally has a lengthy application process. The assessment phase, he said, can take a couple of years.

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie says Eastern Health's staffing issues have been resolved. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"It's a program which is available, but it's one that is challenging, because effectively it makes a well person sick in order to provide a person in need of a kidney, with a kidney," he said.

Haggie said he was not aware of any other issues with that program, and said 20 people had been assessed through the program since the beginning of 2018.

Patients fly to Halifax for surgery, and those costs are reimbursed to the patient through MCP.

"We don't have the critical mass to do transplant surgery locally," he said.

Haggie stressed that Burridge's case was an isolated one.

"We monitor our transplant list … on a regular basis," he said. "I'm not aware of any other significant issues."

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