Epidural shortage hits 14 per cent of Ontario hospitals

Approximately 14 per cent of hospitals in Ontario are reporting they have less than a week’s worth of epidural catheters in stock, according to an Ontario Health memo sent to hospital chief executive officers on Friday.

“Over the past two weeks, Ontario Health has worked with a small number of hospitals that have had urgent supply concerns,” Dr. Chris Simpson, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Ontario Health, wrote in a memo on Friday obtained by CTV News Toronto.

“In all cases, the supply shortages were resolved via either sharing between hospitals or escalating requests with suppliers.”

An epidural catheter, or tube, is used to administer pain medication typically during childbirth.

An ongoing global shortage of the devices hit Canada in late July, initially impacting western provinces more severely, according to the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society. However, the supply crunch has reached the local front with Ontario hospitals now reporting shortages.

The Ontario Health memo contained a provincial inventory survey that took place on Aug. 10.

In it, Simpson stated that there is currently an “adequate epidural catheter supply” at a provincial level while acknowledging that there is “variability” when it comes to supply across hospitals along with uncertainty as to when the issues will be resolved.

Teleflex, a surgical and medical instrument manufacturer, is expecting their supply shortage to begin resolving in mid-to-late-September.

“Existing customers should be seeing weekly allocation and shipments, but at lower than usual supply,” the memo reads.

The company is reporting that two of their stock keeping units are currently impacted by longer than average lead times for their epidural catheters. To obtain more stock, Teleflex is relocating existing and future supply from Europe.

Meanwhile, Canadian Hospital Specialties, another supplier, is not experiencing “significant” shortages and has increased production to take on new customers who are experiencing shortages from other suppliers.

If and when the situation worsens, Ontario Health says they are developing clinical guidance to manage epidurals during supply shortages.

In the meantime, the memo includes key messages health-care workers can discuss with patients seeking information. Ontario Health suggests reassuring patients that there is currently enough supply of epidurals and to introduce the idea of alternate pain control methods if the shortage has the potential to affect the hospital.

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