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Friday, May 2, 2008

Yet another Canadian pathology disaster emerges

First it was Toronto. Then St John's, Newfoundland. Next came Miramichi, New Brunswick.

Now, we learn of the fourth incident in a discouraging series of pathology scandals across Canada that have recently come to light.

This time, it's in Owen Sound, Ontario, where an internal audit at the Grey Bruce Health Services hospital discovered that pathologist Barry Sawka's error rate over his last 600 cases was 6% -- far more than the average of 1%.

Dr Sawka withdrew from practice voluntarily -- after the hospital requested he do so -- when the internal review was started in February. He has reviewed around 40,000 cases since he began working at Grey Bruce Health Services in 1994, all of which the hospital says could potentially be subject to review.

The hospital announced yesterday that it has already begun contacting patients to be reexamined in light of the revelation, but claims no deaths have been connected to any of Dr Sawka's errors.

A website has been set up to inform patients about the situation as it develops. According to the Owen Sound Sun Times, lawyers' phones are already ringing.

"The shortages and the deficiencies and the gaps in laboratory services are so widespread, I think there's a risk in many locations that problems are going to come to the surface," Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons CEO Dr Andrew Padmos told the Globe and Mail this week.

Canadian Association of Pathologists president Dr Jagdish Butany echoed that same sentiment when he and I spoke last month. "Over the last 20-plus years, we have not paid enough attention to laboratories and pathology and pathologists," he said. "[The healthcare system has] relegated pathologists to the basement and given them that same priority."

For more on the root causes and the implications of the recent problems in pathology, read my article "Canadian pathology mired in crisis" in the April issue of the National Review of Medicine.

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