Nine patients affected by Eastern Health errors

Bonnie Belec and Barb Sweet
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Health critic calls for information line for breast cancer patients

Eastern Health confirmed Thursday nine breast cancer patients got the wrong results from a test to determine their treatment.

Due to the wrong results, eight of those patients were taking a drug called Herceptin, while one opted not to take the medication, which has a potential side effect of cardiotoxicity, possibly leading to congestive heart failure.

The patients have been taken off the drugs and the testing related to the errors halted.

The Telegram broke the news at www.thetelegram.com Thursday that several women had new information about their test results. But Eastern Health would not confirm the details until the late afternoon news conference it said it had initially planned for today but rushed be-cause of media being tipped off.

All nine women were told of their new results Thursday. The authority knew something was amiss in December through a quality-assurance check, but said it did not have confirmation of the nine errors in the immunohistochemistry lab until Tuesday, after consulting an expert in Miami, Fla., and having further testing done in an outside lab.

“This is a tough message. This is not good news, for sure. Nine people’s lives are affected,” Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski told reporters.

In her written statement Kaminski apologized to the patients. “This is a very distressing time for our patients and their families and we are offering whatever support they need at this time,” she stated.

NDP health critic, St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers, called on Eastern Health later Thursday to put in place a phone number for concerned breast cancer patients.

“This is what people need at a time like this,” Rogers said, adding patients should not panic, either. “They need to not just be assured and placated, but given clear and accurate information.”

Rogers, a breast cancer survivor, was among patients affected by a scandal that rocked the province and led to the Cameron Inquiry into botched hormone receptor test results. Between 1997 and 2005, 386 patients received wrong results from hormone receptor testing from Eastern Health.

Many of those patients have since died and the inquiry into the scandal led to mass changes in Eastern Health’s pathology lab and administration.

Rogers noted the staff, training and resources that have been put in the lab, and said nobody wants an adverse event and she’s glad Eastern Health is moving to determine the root cause of these new errors.

Although also related to breast cancer treatment, the new errors are different than those that led to the 1997-2005 mistakes.

Kaminski said it was improvements made as a result of Cameron Inquiry that led Eastern Health to pick up on the problem this time swiftly and set steps in motion to deal with it. She was adamant that the numbers released Thursday on the errors will not change and there aren’t potentially any other patients not identified.

Health Minister Susan Sullivan also met with reporters Thursday and apologized to the patients, but said she’s happy with the way Eastern Health has handled the matter, crediting also the Cameron Inquiry with improving quality assurance.

“I certainly want to apologize to them, to tell them the health-care system is there for them,” Sullivan said.

“My reaction is always around patients and concern for the nine women here. We are deeply sorry for what has happened for those nine women.”

As heart-breaking story after story of patients and the missteps and debacle inside Eastern Health were revealed to the 2008 Cameron Inquiry, trust in the lab and Eastern Health in general was decimated, so any new mistakes make for bad optics.

“We have never, ever said we will be completely error free, and as long as we have a system that is based on interpretation and people’s interpretations and humans, we will have a potential  for this kind of issue,” Kaminski told reporters, adding the quality assurance strategies as a result of Cameron are clearly working.

The authority doesn’t know yet what exactly in the lab process caused the errors — there will be an internal probe that will re-examine all the steps — but the Miami expert did disagree with the interpretation that Eastern Health pathologists made on the nine patents’ results.

The tests this time around are related to human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) and were started at Eastern Health in April 2013 instead of sending them out of province. For certain of those cases, a further test called HER2 Dual ISH is needed and that’s the one that determines whether patients take Herceptin. The errors are all related to those who initially received positive results on the test, indicating aggressive tumours. So those patients affected by the errors did not have as aggressive tumours as was first thought because of the wrong results. Their breast cancer diagnosis does not change, however.

Kaminski told reporters that between April and December 2013, 68 results required further testing. Of those 68, Eastern Health sent 34 for further testing to the expert in Miami. Of those, the nine required a change in treatment.

Kaminski said the oncologists are working with the nine patients on new treatment plans. Meanwhile, HER2 testing is being done out of province again until the cause of the errors is determined. This means breast cancer patients waiting on those tests have a further three-day wait for results.

They are also being monitored for any problems, said Dr. Jehan Siddiqui, clinical chief of the cancer-care program.

“There is nothing to suggest they suffered any permanent damage from the treatments that have been done,” he said.

Siddiqui said patients who are on the drug don’t take it for longer than a year.

 

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bbelec@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Miami, Fla., Miami

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Recent comments

  • Concerned Practictioner
    February 14, 2014 - 12:36

    It's time for a change at Eastern Health and it has to begin at the top. The government is pouring money into Newfoundland's health care system with no oversight. The waste is unbelievable and there is no accountability for the people at the top. It will soon be time for Eastern Health to blame the pathologists or lab technicians again for these errors. Suspensions will follow and Eastern Health will do what it does so well, instill fear in the people that work there and prevent the proper reporting of adverse events because staff will fear punishment. It's time Eastern Health start to promote a culture of safety, not just on paper but in practice and empower employees to fix institutional problems without fear of becoming an outcast that will be punished when the very things that they are warning the institution about happens (remember Dr. Denic). Eastern Health needs real management with real health care management experience. The attitude remains strong within Eastern Health that we've done it this way for years and we will continue to do it this way for many more. Management can't be questioned, and no one asks the front line staff what works and what doesn't. Ask the numerous employees that have left and returned from away or ones that have just left about the mess that is Eastern Health.

  • david
    February 14, 2014 - 12:04

    Meanwhile, renovations to Confederation Building proceeding, and more statues are on order. You know, you might not get exactly what you deserve in life, but this is pretty darn close for Newfoundland. We decided it would be all up to Danny Williams to set the long-term agenda for our "era of oil". And this is what it is: a much more expensive, much more incompetent backwater with a few more trinkets and a few lucky bootlickers. Bravo.

  • Marshall Art
    February 14, 2014 - 10:49

    It's no wonder Danny Williams went to the U.S. when he had a serious medical condition; he wasn't taking any chances when his life was involved. Unfortunately, most people have no choice but to put their lives in the hands of Eastern Health and when EH screws up again, Vickie Kaminski simply apologizes. Eastern Health is incompetency personified and heads should roll.

  • Graham
    February 14, 2014 - 10:20

    Vicki was brought to Eastern Health to cut jobs...save money at any cost and she is doing a great job at that. She and our so called government have cut jobs and millions of dollars to according to Susan Sullivan our joke of a Health Minister.."improve patient care and services" Susan and Vicki should have to stay in hospital or in a seniors home for a few days and receive EXACTLY the same service and treatment as those people there are getting. Then strut out in front of the TV cameras SMILE and tell ALL OF US just how great everything is. Staff shortages,,budget cuts...low moral from an over worked and stressed out staff. Great job Minister Sullivan. we now can see why Vicki still has her high paying job. She is doing EXACTLY what you hired her to do. Come on 2015 so we can dump this sad excuse of a government and get one that actually cares about the people who elect them.

  • Graham
    February 14, 2014 - 10:20

    Vicki was brought to Eastern Health to cut jobs...save money at any cost and she is doing a great job at that. She and our so called government have cut jobs and millions of dollars to according to Susan Sullivan our joke of a Health Minister.."improve patient care and services" Susan and Vicki should have to stay in hospital or in a seniors home for a few days and receive EXACTLY the same service and treatment as those people there are getting. Then strut out in front of the TV cameras SMILE and tell ALL OF US just how great everything is. Staff shortages,,budget cuts...low moral from an over worked and stressed out staff. Great job Minister Sullivan. we now can see why Vicki still has her high paying job. She is doing EXACTLY what you hired her to do. Come on 2015 so we can dump this sad excuse of a government and get one that actually cares about the people who elect them.

  • Guy Incognito
    February 14, 2014 - 08:13

    Wasn't Vicki brought it to straighten out Eastern Health? What exactly does she do for that big salary??

    • saelcove
      February 14, 2014 - 10:57

      guy incongnito, She give photo opts

  • Guy Incognito
    February 14, 2014 - 08:10

    Wasn't Vicki brought it to straighten out Eastern Health? What exactly does she do for that big salary??

  • Janet Henley
    February 14, 2014 - 07:54

    I feel so badly about those patients and about the other patients whose tests results changed but are not included in the numbers because their "treatment didn't change". This is typical Eastern health fudging of the severity of the testing problem. They never come clean but hide behind cute PR "managing" of the results. God bless those women if they sue. It has been over four years since I started my court case having been left out of the class action settlement and their lawyer is still playing games and causing delays.

  • joebennett
    February 14, 2014 - 07:36

    When is this ever going to stop at Eastern Health ? It seems like every other day they are in the news with another blunder. If this was a private enterprise than heads would certainly roll.

  • Doogie Howser, MD
    February 14, 2014 - 07:32

    Enough already; if "Victor" was heading up EH, he'd have been fired years ago; many lives ago.

  • Marie
    February 14, 2014 - 04:39

    Things like this is why I don't trust any test results. I go by how I feel. I feel sick before the test rrsults comr back. I have anemia and know when I need a transfusion before the test come back. I will never trust eastern health again.