Shortage of surgical equipment in Quebec could delay heart surgeries


Quebec hospitals are facing a shortage of key medical equipment needed to perform heart surgeries. 

A drop in the supply of oxygenators, a device that delivers oxygen to patients during heart surgery, means that patients may be facing potential delays. 

Dr. Louis Perrault, the president of the Quebec Association of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons, says that a contingency plan has been put in place in case the situation worsens. 

“A contingency plan was submitted Thursday to the professional services management of all cardiac surgery centres [in Quebec],” said Perrault.

The first part of the contingency plan, Perrault says, is cardiac centres sharing equipment with centres without their own supply.

According to Health Canada, there has been a shortage of devices from Terumo Cardiovascular Systems Corporation since Feb. 22, 2023, due to a manufacturing disruption. Another supplier of oxygenators, Maquet Cardiopulmonary GmbH, had to recall oxygenators last year.

Medical personnel stand in an operating room.
Oxygenators deliver oxygen to patients during heart surgery. (Alexey _DS/Getty Images)

“Two suppliers continue to deliver products, but in smaller quantities than we want,” said Joël Clément, spokesperson for the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute. “We are closely monitoring the situation.” 

The Montreal Heart Institute said it’s “aware of a supply difficulty” but that it has “nevertheless been able to put in place mitigation measures with other suppliers.”

A spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Health, Noémie Vanheuverzwijn, told Radio-Canada that it recognizes that the province’s supply of “oxygenators for cardiac surgeries is currently under pressure.”

Vanheuverzwijn said a provincial shortage management committee is also monitoring the situation and looking for solutions, which may include finding alternative equipment.

Surgeons perform surgery.
A spokesperson for Quebec’s Health Ministry said a provincial committee is monitoring the situation and looking for solutions, which may include finding alternative equipment. (Baranozdemir/Getty Images)

Perrault says this might mean delays when it comes to patients going under the knife for cardiac surgery.

“If this goes on for more than a few weeks, we could end up reducing the number of cardiac surgeries significantly,” said  Perrault. “The contingency plan provides a way of prioritizing patients.”

But Quebec is not the only province in Canada dealing with an oxygenator shortage. 

Dr. Ansar Hassan, the president of the Canadian Society of Cardiac Surgeons, says he’s hearing from colleagues in other parts of the country too.

“Surgeons must make important decisions. How can we best use what we have? And how can we ensure that we have a supply of oxygenators that will allow us to continue to handle the volume of cases?” said Hassan.

In a statement, Health Canada told CBC shortages happen for different reasons including “equipment malfunctions, supply chain weaknesses, geopolitical events, and labour constraints.” 

Health Canada says it has engaged governments and manufacturers across the supply chain to mitigate the shortage and facilitate sharing, but it does not control the supply of medical devices or have the power to force companies to manufacture oxygenators.

It says it expects the Terumo Cardiovascular oxygenator shortage to end by April.


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