TORONTO – Ontario’s health minister defended the province’s practices Thursday saying the system worked when two hospitals in Toronto and Mississauga detected possible errors in reading 3,500 mammograms and CT scans.
Trillium Health Partners announced Wednesday night it had uncovered a “performance issue” with a veteran radiologist concerning diagnostic tests conducted between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013, at Mississauga Hospital and Queensway Health Centre.
“I have been assured that affected patients are being properly informed and that their cases are being reviewed as quickly as possible so that follow-up care can be provided,” said Health Minister Deb Matthews.
However, Trillium would not say when it first learned of the potential problems with the accuracy of the test results.
“When we had our plan in place to notify patients and our community of the external review, we notified the ministry (of health),” Trillium spokeswoman Catherine Pringle said Thursday. “This was in late August.”
One woman, Houda Rafle, 28, told Toronto television station CP24 that she was given a clean bill of health after a CT scan in March, only to find out recently that she did indeed have cancer at the time, and it has gotten worse.
“The tumour was present in March, and unfortunately because there was a six month duration it had now spread to my lungs and is now Stage 4,” said Rafle.
The misdiagnosis and the fact the untreated cancer has spread triggered a wide range of emotions when she got the news, added Rafle.
“It’s frustration, disappointment, just devastated, and when I heard this news the one thing I knew was I have to get through this, I have no option but to recover.”
Matthews said she knows receiving such a letter from the hospital can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.
“I know that they are very worried,” she said. “I understand that, and that’s why I’m pleased that the hospital is moving as quickly as it can to review each and every case.”
The hospital discovered the apparent mistakes itself, which shows the system is working, added Matthews.
“I am interested in learning about what other provinces are doing, but I think it’s important to acknowledge our system is quite different, so that quality oversight is happening in our hospitals,” she said.
Ontario’s New Democrats said the Trillium review seems to have been sparked by one person making mistakes, and agreed the system did work, although perhaps not as quickly as it should.
“I would say the system has worked. It should have been a little bit quicker. It took a little bit long for my point of view, but it did work,” said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
Trillium said patients and doctors whose scans are involved in the review will be contacted directly after their tests have been checked.
The external review will be led by a doctor from the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton and will be made public once it is completed.
“We apologize for any concern the news of this review may cause and want our patients and community to know it is being done to ensure the higher quality of care at our hospital,” said Michelle DiEmanuele, CEO of Trillium Health Partners, in a release.
The radiologist who conducted the scans under review is no longer working with the hospital, Trillium said.
This isn’t the first time there were mistakes in cancer tests and other diagnostic procedures in Canada.
In 2012, a sweeping medical study of thousands of mammograms in Quebec found 109 cases of breast cancer that had not been previously diagnosed.
Alberta conducted a system-wide review of medical testing in 2011 following reports about 325 patients were misdiagnosed at three hospitals.
Also in 2011, a report in British Columbia found that poor oversight, among other factors, was to blame in the deaths of three patients and the harming of nine more after they were misdiagnosed by three unqualified radiologists.
And in 2009, a public inquiry in Newfoundland and Labrador determined there had been more than 400 cases of misdiagnosed breast cancer from 1997 to 2005, with some of the patients dying as a result of lack of proper care.