Wed, January 7, 2004

Medical tools called a risk Tainted equipment used: Paramedic


Invasive medical instruments used by ambulance workers aren't being sterilized properly, which is putting patients' health and lives at risk, a Durham paramedic says. The reusable blades used to hold down the tongue while a patient is intubated to help them breath aren't being cleaned properly, which could pass disease from one patient to another, said the paramedic, who did not want his name used.


"The blade mechanism comes out with blood and vomit on it and there are serious questions how they are being cleaned. We aren't following the manufacture's guidelines and there could be cross contamination," he said.

The blades, which are supposed to be cleaned with detergent first, are simply being tossed into a bleach solution for undetermined lengths of time, the paramedic said.

"If they are left in too long it could damage the equipment's fibre optics. We could successfully intubate a patient and make a wrong diagnosis using damaged equipment."

A recent ambulance service accreditation review for Durham Emergency Medical Services by the health ministry says the "sanitation program is not well-documented or easy to trace."

It goes on to say there are "major problems" with the way patient care supplies are stored to protect them from contamination.

There could be a problem, said Marty Epp, manager of base services for Oshawa Hospital. "I'm not suggesting it's not true, but it is entirely the responsibility of each paramedic to properly clean their equipment."

There is no indication the public has been put at risk, said Richard Armstrong, director of Durham EMS. "I have significant concerns that an employee would give information to the press without giving us an opportunity to address the concerns," he said.

The problem of properly sterilizing intubation equipment isn't isolated to Durham, said a Toronto paramedic.

"Just a month ago, our union met with management because we weren't using the proper sterilization solution and we weren't soaking the equipment long enough," the paramedic said, adding that, in Toronto, about 3,000 patients a year are intubated by ambulance workers.


There have been a string of sterilization problems lately.

In one case, a $150-million class action suit was filed against Sunnybrook and Women's College Hospital after improperly sterilized equipment was used on patients who fear they may have contracted HIV or hepatitis C.

An internal hospital audit determined an ultrasound wand used in 861 prostate biopsies may not have been properly sterilized between each use.

Two similar lawsuits were launched against Lakeridge hospital in Oshawa after nearly 120 patients received colon and throat tests with improperly sterilized equipment.