The Ontario government has appointed investigators at all three hospitals in Windsor to review pathology test errors and botched medical procedures. But it has no plans to expand the probe beyond the border city, where anxiety is running high over mistaken mastectomies on two women.
Dr. Barry McLellan, chief executive officer of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and Ontario's former chief coroner, will lead the parallel investigations into 3,000 pathology tests dating back two years, as well as surgical errors.
"We do think this deserves high priority," said Deb Matthews, Ontario's Health Minister, in explaining why the province took the rare step yesterday of intervening. "When there's uncertainty in the system, we need to put people's minds [to]rest as quickly as we can."
Ms. Matthews said she hopes the review can be completed by June. "There is absolutely no indication that this goes beyond Windsor," she said.
France Gélinas, health critic for the provincial New Democrats, said it would be premature for the government to expand the probe beyond Windsor.
"The last thing you want to do is send panic or send messages that say the system is not safe," she told reporters.
The probes follow the acknowledgment by Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital last week that Barbara Heartwell performed mastectomies on two women who did not have cancer. Dr. Heartwell, who has successfully treated thousands of breast-cancer patients in the Windsor area, has voluntarily stopped performing surgeries.
Hôtel-Dieu also said it launched its own review in November of 15,000 pathology tests dating back to 2003, after an "adverse medical event" involving another doctor, Olive Williams, who was suspended in January.
Hôtel-Dieu said in a statement that so far "seven serious cases have come to light." The government's investigators are also reviewing pathology tests at Windsor Regional Hospital and Leamington District Memorial Hospital because all three use the same laboratory. However, the vast majority of samples are from Hôtel-Dieu's patients.
Paul Harte, a medical malpractice lawyer in Richmond Hill, Ont., said a number of concerned patients have been in contact with his office.
"Unfortunately, calls to the [Hôtel-Dieu]hotline are not being returned ... and the paucity of information provided to the media so far has done little to shed light on the situation, which is understandably alarming to many people in the Windsor area," he said.
Both doctors are under investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.