May 21, 2008

When the system fails us

Every government needs its image tarnished. Despite Danny William's reputation for building a new solid foundation for Newfoundland's future, he and his government appear to be in hot water over a major health care crisis that's been simmering for a few years. Hundreds of women's lives are on the line thanks to a misdiagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the "hormone receptor test" is the critical element in determining the course of one's treatment. If a patient's hormones stimulate the tumour, the patient is considered ER/PR (Estrogen Receptor/Progesterone Receptor) positive and is eligible to be treated with a hormone-blocking drug such as Tamoxifen.

The drug is considered the best hope for many patients.

Eastern Health decided to retest more than a thousand breast cancer patients who were diagnosed ER/PR-negative between 1997 and 2005. The review discovered hundreds of women who had missed their chance at getting Tamoxifen treatment.

Of the 1,013 breast cancer patients retested, 383 were found to be falsely ER/PR-negative. More than 100 of those wrongly tested patients are now dead.

An inquiry led by Judge Margaret Cameron revealed that not all of those affected were even notified that a mistake had been made.

I've been chasing this issue since I had a personal encounter with the faulty system in 2003, and peppered the powers that be with columns and letters to the editor in papers back home.

Recall the incident in St. Joseph's Hospital in Vegreville last year involving medical equipment that was improperly sterilized.

I was watching Global News over the long weekend and learned in Winnipeg, the toilets are not properly sanitized - causing a spread of c. difficile.

As of press time, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) are still on standby to strike, but are in talks. They want to achieve a collective agreement that addresses patient and staff safety concerns, the critical shortage of nurses and the nurses' professional working environment.

Responsibility is required. Canada supposedly has one of the best health care systems in the world. Does it? Why are there so many problems?

Wait times and health human resources are the issues on the hot seat.

Health care in Canada is funded and delivered through a publicly funded health care system, with most services provided by private entities.

In Canada, the various levels of government pay for about 70 per cent of Canadians' health care costs. Under the Canada Health Act, the publicly-funded insurance plans are required to pay for medically necessary care - only if it is delivered in hospitals or by physicians. Coverage costs of outpatient prescription drugs, physical therapy, long-term care, home care, dental care and ambulance services are wildly different across the country.

Maybe the Williams government is covering something up. Or perhaps they are being more accountable and rooting out the old guard. I'm hoping time and Judge Cameron will tell. It's unfortunate that those misdiagnosed women may not have that time.