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Faulty Hormone Tests Compromised Healthcare Of Breast Cancer Patients

The chief executive officer of a health authority in St. John's, Canada, has apologized for not disclosing full details on faulty tests that may have affected the care of hundreds of breast cancer patients.

George Tilley of the Eastern Health Regional Authority agreed that Eastern Health could have avoided public confusion by disclosing months ago what it knew about the hormone receptor tests.

'I regret the decision that we didn't simply refer to it earlier,' Tilley said at a press meeting. 'I apologize for the confusion that that caused.'

Eastern Health disclosed last year that it had been having problems for eight years with hormone receptor tests, which determine which course of treatment is appropriate for a patient.

Yet, until now, however, Eastern had indicated that the tests' error rate was as low as 10 percent.

However, an affidavit filed with a pending class-action lawsuit in Newfoundland Supreme Court indicated that the error rate was significantly higher.

Of 763 patients who tested negative, 317 had been given wrong results, says the affidavit, filed in February by Heather Predham, assistant director of quality and risk management with Eastern Health.

Of those, 104 patients required a change in treatment, with 96 eventually being prescribed Tamoxifen, a drug that is highly regarded for its ability to block the hormones that promote the growth of cancer cells, it adds.

A subsequent document, filed this week, showed that 36 women who have since died received inaccurate hormone receptor tests.

Accordingly, Eastern Health was aware of the error rate in the winter of 2006, but the public was never told about it until a Canadian news channel reported it from the court record earlier this week.

This sparked public outrage and at times emotional debate in the house of assembly, with Premier Danny Williams promising a public response to the disclosures.

Tilley said Eastern Health never intended to mislead anyone while dealing with a continuing investigation into problems with how hormone receptor test results have been disclosed.

Peter Dawe, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, appreciated the apology.

'Full disclosure was important,' Dawe was reported. 'Individuals could've been brought into the process a lot quicker they should be part of the decision-making about their own treatment.'

The Premier while saying that he was not ruling out a public inquiry into the controversy, stressed that he has not lost confidence in the health-care system, and that the public should not 'taint and smear' officials because of what happened.

He said any investigation to follow must balance the privacy of patients against the public's right to know. 'We need to make sure there's full disclosure to the people of the province, but more particularly to the patients and the families concerned,' Williams was quoted.


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