Skip to main content

Executives of a private outfit that co-ordinates bulk sales of drugs to hospitals has laid the blame for diluted chemotherapy treatments reaching 1,200 cancer patients squarely on the company that made and supplied the intravenous solution.

Testifying before a Queen's Park committee on Monday, executives from Medbuy said labels on intravenous chemotherapy bags delivered to hospitals in Ontario and New Brunswick by Marchese Hospital Solutions did not accurately reflect the contents of the bags.

"The issue is not the concentration ...," Medbuy vice-president Michael Blanchard said. "The problem is the labels do not accurately describe the contents of the bag."

Medbuy president Kent Nicholson said his company is in the process of terminating its contract with Marchese, which he valued at $2-million to $3-million annually. Medbuy is a group-purchasing organization that buys medication and supplies on behalf of hospitals.

The testimony stood in stark contrast to that of Marchese president Marita Zaffiro, who told the committee last week that her company's product met the exact specifications of its contract with Medbuy and suggested that hospitals were at fault for imprecisely administering the drugs.

A phone message left for Ms. Zaffiro late on Monday seeking a response to Medbuy executives' remarks was not returned.

Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Blanchard testified for 80 minutes before the legislature's Standing Committee on Social Policy, which has been conducting hearings for weeks.

"Is it fair to say that Marchese did not prepare the product you were expecting?" MPP Christine Elliott asked Medbuy executives at one point during the hearing.

"That is a fair statement," Mr. Blanchard replied.

Both executives testified that if the bags of medicine were overfilled with saline, as has been established in the hearings, the pharmacist at Marchese overseeing the compounding should have noticed, and the company should have labelled the bags accordingly.

The hearings have offered the public a rare glimpse of the unregulated industry of bulk drug mixing in Canada, which experts have testified has been around for at least a quarter century.

Hospitals have taken increasingly to outsourcing for compounded pharmaceuticals, rather than mixing drugs in-house, citing patient safety and cost as factors.

But New Democrat MPP France Gelinas, who has been a vocal critic of the situation, questioned the relative safety of outsourcing.

On Monday, Ms. Gelinas suggested Medbuy's function as a middleman adds an unchecked level of risk that something could go awry when drugs are handed off from the supplier to hospitals.

"There's enough blame here to go around," Ms. Gelinas said. "There will probably be some blame assigned to the pharmacist working at Marchese, but there is blame also in the way the [contract] was put together as well as blame to the Ministry of Health as to allowing those hand-offs to happen . . . with no mechanism to mitigate the risk."

Interact with The Globe