Ontario hospitals managing drug shortage
OTTAWA — Although some Ontario hospitals have run dangerously low on certain essential medications, not one surgery has been cancelled or delayed because of the nationwide drug shortage, said Health Minister Deb Matthews.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get through this without any serious impact on patients,” Matthews said in an interview Thursday.

Since a provincial drug inventory was launched last week, some hospitals have reported having less than a five days’ supply of certain medications, which is considered critically low, said Matthews.

Such reports alert the government to potential shortages that could jeopardize surgeries and other medical procedures.

To date, most hospitals have either found replacement drugs, or received new shipments just in time to avoid impacting patient care, said Michael Cohen, vice president of clinical support for Ottawa’s Queensway Carleton Hospital.

“Our strategies on substitutions and inventory management — in addition to regular shipments — appear to have kept our heads above water,” said Cohen, who meets weekly with his counterparts from other Eastern Ontario hospitals to discuss how to deal with the shortage.

Cohen said he’s not aware of any hospital in the region that has run so low on certain medications that it has had to share drugs with other facilities. “Most hospitals are officially on ‘yellow’ alert, but appear to be managing.”

However, pharmacies and hospitals across Ontario have reported running low on the narcotic hydromorphone, used to manage pain, and many are starting to ration it.

The nationwide shortage is the result of production problems at a Quebec manufacturing plant belonging to Sandoz Canada.

The plant, which has been plagued by quality-control lapses and a recent fire, is the sole supplier of more than 140 generic injectable drugs, or about half of all such medications used by Canadian hospitals.

In recent days, Sandoz has provided hospitals with more information, not only about the drugs that are on back order, but also the dates they are expected to be at full production again, said the country’s largest drug buyer for hospitals.

That has allowed hospitals to better manage their existing supply, said Michael Blanchard, clinical director of pharmacy services for HealthPro Canada, which purchases drugs for 255 hospitals and health authorities.

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