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Improperly Sterilized Equipment May Have Infected Patients

Victor Lewin - Sunday, January 12, 2014

It was revealed that officials of a New Brunswick health authority discussed the use of improperly sterilized biopsy forceps at its facilities for three months without taking action. They finally released information regarding the instances of potential medical malpractice and advised patients who may have been exposed to the improperly sterilized equipment to undergo testing for HIV and hepatitis B and C. Documents showed that Horizon Health Network staff spent weeks attempting to figure out how much risk patients had actually faced at the Miramichi Regional Hospital over the 14 years that the forceps were improperly sterilized.

Emails released under information access laws portrayed health administrators disagreeing over whether patients were exposed to pathogens when they underwent colposcopies with equipment that had not been sterilized using steam. It was revealed that forceps used for cervical biopsies were instead being disinfected by use of a solution. The CEO of Horizon apologized for the error.

One officials sought the opinion of an Ontario microbiologist about risk assessment, telling her that Horizon had a policy of disclosure to patients and that they wanted to disclose this information if appropriate. The written policy of the health authority was to encourage the informing of patients in cases where no harm was known to have occurred but for whom the potential for harm existed. The policy allowed officials to use their clinical and professional judgment to decide what should be done on a case-by-case basis.

Individuals who believe they have suffered due to hospital negligence, errors or delayed diagnosis may be able to sue for compensation for damages in a court of law. If individuals treated by the improperly sterilized equipment suffer damages, they may be entitled to compensation from the facility.

Source: CBC, "Horizon Health took 3 months to disclose sterilization problem", Alison Auld, January 05, 2014

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