‘Nothing to do now but sit and wait’

·4 min read

The three remaining health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have added almost 14,000 scans to the tally of mammograms that have to be reviewed because of substandard workstations.

More than half come from the Western Health region, where the scans go back almost 10 years.

In a media briefing on Wednesday, Aug. 31, Eastern Health interim CEO Kenneth Baird said the situation is the same as the one identified in Central Health more than a week ago.

“We’re focusing on the resolution of the monitors used during the viewing of some mammography images, and not the mammograms themselves,” he told reporters.

The authorities have discovered some scans were reviewed on workstations with 3-megapixel screens. Health Canada standards were changed in 2013 to require 5-megapixel resolution for interpreting mammograms.

Baird would not speculate as to whether authorities simply had deficient equipment or whether staff ignored federal guidelines.

“Our quality review will help to reveal to us the reasons and contributing factors as to why this happened, so that we can take the appropriate measures to ensure it does not happen again,” he said.

Western Health’s review involves more scans dating back several more years because it was the first authority to employ reporting software called PowerScribe.

The other authorities didn’t get it until 2018 or 2019.

“Prior to those dates that we came down on, there was a different reporting tool utilized which was not integrated with the monitor,” explained Dr. Angela Pickles, clinical chief of medical imaging with Eastern Health, “… so we could not determine from reports where those examinations were reported (from).”

It’s not clear whether that means thousands more scans may have been read on substandard computer screens in the other three regions, and a request for clarification from Eastern Health did not get a response before deadline.

Central Health has already begun its review of about 3,000 scans, and has so far found four potential discrepancies out of 837 files reviewed in which the reviewer’s interpretation differed from that of the original radiologist.

They expect those reviews to be completed by the end of September, whereas Eastern Health and Labrador-Grenfell Health have set the end of October as a target date for completion.

All scans done in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region are read by radiologists with Eastern Health.

In all cases, any patient whose scan is being reviewed will receive a letter by at least those dates, but any patient for whom a discrepancy is found will be contacted by phone immediately.

Because of the larger volume, Western Health CEO Michelle House said she cannot yet establish how long it will take to conduct the review.

Baird said the situation represents a “low risk” to patients, but all four health authority CEOs have apologized for the worry caused by the review.

“We know that people have been concerned about these results,” Baird said. “On behalf of Eastern Health, I’d like to extend my apology for any worry or concern this issue may be causing or creating. I can assure people we have been acting as quickly as possible.”

The breakdown of mammograms being reviewed by region is as follows (some numbers are approximate):

• Eastern Health: 3,800;

• Central Health: 3,000;

• Western Health: 7,554;

• Labrador-Grenfell Health: 2,530.

A toll-free number has been set up for anyone in Eastern, Grenfell and Western who has questions about their scans: 1-833-960-4574.

For Central Health, the number is 1-833-960-4571.

Reaction to the news was swift on social media Wednesday, with several people expressing anger that so many women are now stuck in limbo.

“I just received my letter from Central Health regarding this,” one woman wrote. “My last two mammograms have been identified as part of this ‘review’ as they call it. Nothing to do now but sit and wait.”

The Opposition has also been quick to respond to the news, saying the 2009 Cameron Inquiry report into incorrect hormone receptor tests for breast cancer patients should have put an end to such slipups.

"Where was the oversight? Where were the checks and balances?" Progressive Conservative Interim Leader David Brazil said to reporters Wednesday.

"Did people follow anything that we learned from the Cameron Inquiry? Why was it that more people weren't engaged earlier in this whole process, and who's responsible for what's happened?”

A Central Health spokesperson said Wednesday the authority would provide another update on its review early next week.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram