Twenty-four elective surgeries have been cancelled so far at Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Hospital, after the machines that sterilize surgical instruments were found to be malfunctioning earlier this week.
In an email sent to the territory's MLAs on Thursday, which was obtained by CBC, Health Minister Glen Abernethy said a "technical issue has been identified with the main sterilizer unit," which is used for surgical procedures and endoscopies.
Abernethy said the hospital does have smaller backup sterilizers, but they can only clean a small number of instruments at a time. Those instruments are being reserved for emergency use and Abernethy said staff is ensuring that urgent cases, such as cancer surgery, will be prioritized.
"Replacement parts for the main sterilizer have been received and repairs are underway, but the equipment will need to be tested to ensure that it is functioning properly before instrument reprocessing can resume," Abernethy told MLAs.
Abernethy said Stanton staff detected the issue immediately and patient safety was not affected.
Elective surgeries between April 26 and May 2 have been cancelled so far and will be rescheduled, according to David Maguire, a spokesperson with the N.W.T.'s health department. A service technician from Steris, the manufacturer of the equipment, is expected in Yellowknife this weekend to help diagnose the problem.
Maguire also confirmed that the affected machines are the same ones that broke down in 2011, leading to hundreds of surgeries being cancelled.
"These machines were repaired after the last issue and have been operating properly and within acceptable standards since then," he said in an email. "We can't yet confirm if the cause is the same in this case. This is a complex problem to fix."
Maguire said the government is currently estimating the issue will be resolved by May 3, though "this may change as the repair and subsequent testing are carried out."