The province will close an oversight gap after a private company delivered diluted chemotherapy drugs to nearly 1,200 cancer patients, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced. Her government put the Ontario College of Pharmacists in charge of supervising such companies while investigators probe the problem.
The lack of oversight came to light last week when it was revealed that patients at five hospitals – four of them in Ontario – had been given weak doses of cyclophosphamide and gemcitabine for a year. The drugs were mixed by Marchese Hospital Solutions, a Mississauga-based company.
The federal government monitors companies that manufacture drugs, while the province regulates pharmacists. Marchese, which is neither, fell into a gap between the two and was operating without anyone checking on its work.
Provincial health officials met with their federal counterparts and the Pharmacy College Wednesday to straighten things out.
“I’m committed to ensuring that proper regulations be put in place as quickly as possible,” Ms. Wynne said Thursday. “It’s a complex issue, there are many players involved and that’s why we’re working together. But I really believe that it’s not a time for finger-pointing.”
The province has asked all 77 Ontario hospitals that provide chemotherapy to check that there are no problems with their drugs, and all have reported back that there are none, said Health Minister Deb Matthews’ office.
A third-party investigation into the problem is being led by Jake Thiessen and is expected to tell the government what went wrong.
If the government wants to contract out medical work to private companies, it must first put controls in place to make sure the companies meet the same standards as hospitals, said New Democrat health critic France Gelinas.
“As those new companies sprang up all over to do for-profit services for hospitals, the government basically stayed asleep at the switch,” she said. “They never went and looked at who was picking up this work to make sure that the levels of oversight, the levels of quality assurance that we had before were being transferred over. The work got transferred, the oversight did not.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod said the Liberals must be more pro-active in finding problems in the health-care system.
“If ever there was a time to point fingers, it’s when you have a cancer patient not getting the proper dose,” she said.
Currently, some hospitals mix their own drugs, while others have farmed the work out.
The diluted drugs were sent to London Health Sciences Centre, Peterborough Regional Health Centre, Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, Ont., Windsor Regional Hospital and Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick.
Ms. Matthews said earlier this week that Marchese is not supplying chemotherapy drugs to Ontario hospitals pending the outcome of the probe.