Nearly 250 N.B. patients did not receive full dose of cancer drugs: Horizon Health

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Horizon Health Network has revealed that nearly 250 patients in New Brunswick did not receive their full dose of intravenous cancer drugs.

Patients and families of patients have received letters from the health authority, which says about 10 per cent of the medication dose was left in the IV tubing during the administration process.

“A small amount of drug was left within the intravenous tubing if the tubing wasn’t flushed or run dry,” said Dr. Margot Burnell, Horizon Health’s chief of staff for the Saint John area.

“That amount was felt to be very small — approximately 10 per cent — and felt not to have any clinical significance.”

Burnell says the health authority decided to inform patients and surviving family members of deceased patients because their policy is to be transparent about issues like this, and because other provinces were noting the same problem.

The issue first came to light in June at a Mississauga hospital.

That prompted Cancer Care Ontario to conduct a review, which found an estimated 1,063 patients did not receive full doses of the cancer drugs because of an issue with how intravenous medications were administered.

Cancer Care Ontario asked all 74 Ontario hospitals that deliver cancer drug treatments to review their procedures, and notified cancer care agencies in other provinces of the issue.

It was at this point in mid-August, that Horizon Health became aware 248 of their own patients were affected. Of that number, 128 are still living and 120 of the patients are deceased.

Burnell says the drugs were for immunotherapy, which boosts the patient’s immune system to fight cancer, and she doesn’t believe the issue would have “impacted their cancer journey.”

“It was felt not to affect how the drugs worked within the individuals and the reason for that is that these drugs do have some leeway,” she said.

“It was felt within the variance, it would not change how patients’ tumours reacted overall to the drugs.”

Burnell says these particular drugs started being used in clinical practice in 2011, and the issue with underdosing may reach that far back.

She says it’s not believed that any patient will need re-treatment as a result of the issue. She adds that a correction plan, which can include using shorter IV tubes and properly flushing the line, has already been instituted at the clinics.

Those who have received communication from Horizon Health are asked to call a number to speak to staff, or speak to their oncologists.

When asked if it was possible a deceased patient could have lived longer had the issue not existed, Burnell said it was “very unlikely.”

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