Province yet to reach six patients in case of botched biopsies for prostate cancer

Alberta’s health minister rejected opposition suggestions Monday that the recent case of 29 botched Edmonton prostate cancer biopsies is the tip of the iceberg of a troubled system.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister rejected opposition suggestions Monday that the recent case of 29 botched Edmonton prostate cancer biopsies is the tip of the iceberg of a troubled system.

But Fred Horne told the legislature that if the case does go beyond the mistakes of one pathologist, he will take action.

“Pathologists, like all physicians, need to feel the proper level of support both materially and within the workplace generally,” said Horne.

“I have every confidence the Health Quality Council will look into this dimension as part of the review.”

He was responding to comments during question period from Liberal health critic David Swann.

Swann, a medical doctor, said the announcement — along with recent mistakes of 31 cancer testing cases in a Calgary due to lab processing problems — shows there’s a larger problem.

“Pathologists have been raising concerns for years, but unfortunately the management of (Alberta Health Services) has ignored and intimidated them,” said Swann.

“Small wonder pathologists are in short supply, overworked, and bound to make mistakes.”

Last Friday, Horne and Dr. Chris Eagle, head of Alberta Health Services, said the Health Quality Council is reviewing all the work done by a pathologist at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital over the summer.

Of the 159 prostate biopsies examined by the pathologist, almost 20 per cent — 29 cases — were badly misread.