The Canadian Press is reporting that a leaked internal government report warns that the B.C. health system could be overwhelmed by a surge in critically ill patients at the peak of this flu season.
The Canadian Press - Ottawa (7 Oct. 2009) - The internal report prepared for the B.C. Health Services Ministry looked at the number of ventilators available for critically ill H1N1 patients, and predicted there could be a shortage of ventilators and staff who know how to use them.
"Given the current usage of critical-care resources, the impact of even a mild presentation of the H1N1 virus on British Columbia may create a surge that could challenge the ability of critical care units to meet demand and care for patients," says the report.
The study predicted the volume of possible H1N1 patients based on a 1968 pandemic that hit the province, as well as the 2009 flu seasons in Australia and New Zealand.
"When combined with the current needs for critical-care services, H1N1 has the potential to overwhelm what limited resources currently exist," says the report.
Resources may be challenged
"Therefore, British Columbia may face the potential that its critical care resources may be significantly challenged by (a) surge from the H1N1 pandemic this fall."
The province's health minister and provincial officer of health, however, said the figures used in the report are too high.
"If you plug in the more realistic estimates, I don't think there will be a problem," said Dr. Perry Kendall.
"Unless the epidemic suddenly changes its nature to become much more severe than anybody thinks it will, I think, with a high degree of confidence, that we can manage the pressures on the ICUs and the ventilators."
The focus will be on early treatment with anti-virals to reduce the likelihood that patients will become so critically ill, he said.
B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon said he's ordered 25 more ventilators, meaning about 100 will be available at any given time for flu patients. And more ventilators will be available from the federal government, he said.
Hospitals have very little surge capacity
Falcon said he made the order after being briefed on the report last month, "just out of an abundance of caution, to make sure, while we wait for the data to come in, that at least we'll have ventilators ordered and being delivered when you're dealing with the impact."
"I do feel comfortable that we will be able to manage this," he said.
B.C. New Democratic Party health critic Adrian Dix said the report shows that B.C. hospitals are already operating at nearly full capacity, and have little capacity — in ventilators, staff or beds — to deal with a surge in H1N1.
"This shouldn't surprise to anyone who's seen what's gone on in hospitals over the past couple of years," he said.
He said 25 more ventilators doesn't address the problem.
"What the report shows in a fairly clear way is that the governments chosen the wrong time to be engaging in cuts in acute care and cuts in services in health care in British Columbia," Dix said.
Dix is also critical of the government's decision to keep the month-old report secret — even the province's medical health officer had not seen it until copies were leaked.
Falcon said the report was an incomplete draft, but Dix said all government reports are now marked as drafts so that they are exempt from provincial Freedom of Information laws.