Quebec's association of anesthesiologists wants to reassure people that they won't be refused an epidural if they need one, even though the province is among many that are scrambling to find the catheters needed for the procedure.
Epidurals are mostly used for pain management during childbirth, but they are also used to numb patients during surgery.
Supply chain issues at the three catheter companies that supply the province have led to the shortage. According to Nikola Joly, the head of the association, most Quebec hospitals have enough stock to last about a month, but the situation is still being monitored closely.
"Of course, we have a certain concern because, as physicians, we don't [want to] have to choose who will be able to benefit from an epidural," Joly said, adding that they also don't want patients to choose hospitals based on the belief that epidurals will be available at one location and not another.
"We see that there are women who are worried but I really want to reassure them that, for now, we don't expect to refuse epidurals."
In 2021, there were an estimated 84,900 births in the province. In 2016 and 2017, epidurals were used during 72 per cent of vaginal deliveries in Quebec, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Joly said he expects one of Quebec's three suppliers to get back to regular production by the end of August, and for hospitals to share catheters if needed in the meantime.
In a statement, Quebec's Health Ministry said it is aware of the shortage and is checking inventory at all of its hospitals. It also said it is in touch with Health Canada to come up with a solution.
A spokesperson for Health Canada told Radio-Canada it is in regular communication with provinces and territories, and said it could allow the use of catheters that it has not yet approved — but meet its quality standards — in order to preserve access to epidurals.