Breast cancer controversy continues

Misdiagnosed patients fight Eastern Health for tissue samples

James McLeod
Published on February 23, 2012
Ches Crosbie

A nasty fight is developing between the province’s largest health authority and nine women who mistakenly had their breasts removed because they were misdiagnosed with cancer, media reports say.

On Wednesday, Ches Crosbie, the lawyer representing the women, said Eastern Health is putting up roadblocks to prevent them from accessing justice.

Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski, meanwhile, said Crosbie is trying to use the raw emotions of the breast cancer testing scandal to get his way.

“When logic isn’t there, you use emotional whips, and that’s a bit of what this is,” Kaminski told reporters.

After massive testing problems were discovered in the Eastern Health pathology lab between 1997 and 2005, the health authority sent hundreds of samples for re-testing on the mainland.

The flawed testing was related to ER/PR hormone receptors, which determine treatment options.

However, Crosbie said when the samples were examined at Mount Sinai Hospital in Ontario, pathologists determined some women had been misdiagnosed, and did not have cancer at all.

“We already know there was a misdiagnosis, but what we have to find out from our expert is, was there a negligent misdiagnosis, and until we know that, we don’t know whether we have a case,” Crosbie said.

Crosbie wants Eastern Health to send the original slides to Truro, N.S., to be examined by a pathologist he has hired to tell the women whether or not the misdiagnosis appears to be negligent.

Eastern Health is saying because the slides are unique and cannot be copied, they won’t risk sending them out and risk losing them.

“We can’t let it out of our possession and give it to somebody else,” she said.

“It’s the only slide we have, so we can’t send it out of our possession, but we’re more than happy to have anybody come and look at it.”

Crosbie said that having an independent expert come to Newfoundland to view the slides would cost 10 or 15 times more than having it sent out.

“We’re being asked to make a far more substantial investment to find out the answer — is there a claim? — than we would otherwise have to make, not knowing whether we will ever recover the investment,” he said.

Moreover, Crosbie said the Eastern Health policy doesn’t appear to be the standard among health care institutions. He said Eastern Health can’t give examples of other hospitals that refuse to send slides out, and they can’t point to any situations where slides have been lost.

“No one can point to any instance when that’s ever happened,” he said. “Slides are sent around this country in their thousands daily, and they don’t disappear.”

The Cameron Inquiry into the ER/PR testing scandal also dealt extensively with how Eastern Health disclosed the testing errors to patients and members of the public. There were allegations that the health authority tried to obfuscate and control the flow of information.

Crosbie said that their current situation smacks of the same controlling and stonewalling.

“My clients aren’t financially in a position to do what Eastern Health is saying they have to do to find out if they have a claim. So that leaves us in something of a quandary,” he said.

But Kaminski said Crosbie was trying to play a raw nerve, and that the current spat has nothing to do with the Cameron Inquiry.

“This has nothing to do with Cameron. There’s nothing in Cameron that says you should send slides out to experts to look at them,” she said. “That’s an easy, emotional line to use whenever you’re not getting what you want.”

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