250 elective surgeries postponed due to sterilization concerns

Published on February 13, 2016
Dr. David Diamond (left) and Dr. Oscar Howell answer media questions Saturday after it was announced that 250 elective surgeries are being postponed due to the discovery of discolored surgical equipment.
Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

About 250 elective surgeries scheduled for Monday and Tuesday have been postponed due to concerns around sterilization of reprocessed surgical equipment at city hospitals, Eastern Health said Saturday afternoon.

But Dr. Oscar Howell, the authority’s vice-president who is responsible for operating room services, stressed to the media that it was just a precautionary measure and there’s no evidence any patients have been affected.

The concerns began when a discoloration was noticed on a towel in a surgical tray at St. Clare’s on Feb. 4. Howell said biological detection equipment didn’t find anything amiss. Still, the tray was rejected as a precaution.  

“The following week we noticed it on some trays on this site at the Health Sciences Centre. As the week went on, we noticed a little bit more occurring within more trays, and that caused us to stop and reflect: ‘What is happening here?’” Howell told reporters at a quickly organized news conference Saturday.

“And as a result of that last evening we met with our OR team, and many of our surgeons, and we made the decisions that we must stop elective surgery until we have sorted out this problem. We will continue, obviously, to do all our emergency cases.”

The elective surgeries being postponed include more routine surgeries like the removal of tonsils or gallbladders (where there is no infection). Howell said they will try to get to some of the more urgent of those cases if possible.  

“Some of those individuals have cancer, and obviously they’re a priority — that’s why I say where we can do some of the urgents, we’ll proceed to some of the urgents,” he said.

Eastern Health began notifying patients Friday night so they’d know before travelling ahead of Saturday’s storm.

The postponed cases were scheduled around the region, including both city and rural medical centres. Surgical equipment is being trucked throughout the region for sterilization, and staff are working through the weekend to get the situation sorted as soon as possible. Howell said they are hoping to have a solution by Wednesday.

“Every day that goes by, we are not happy to cancel 250 cases, I can tell you. The demand far exceeds the capacity on any given day, so we want this fixed as soon as we can, but patient safety is the rule here,” Howell said.

The discolored towels found over the past couple of weeks have been sent for testing to determine the cause, and Eastern Health anticipates an answer as early as Sunday.

“There’s no evidence of any trays that have been contaminated. There’s no evidence of any added post-operative infections, and we’ll continue to track that, but absolutely reassure the public that we have not seen of anything they should be concerned about. This is precautionary only,” Howell stressed.

A phone number has been set up for patients whose surgeries have been postponed. Affected patients can call 1-877-720-2323 with questions about their surgeries.

Twitter: @TelyLouis