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Leaked flu report suggests problems in BC health: Dix

NDP health critic Adrian Dix says a confidential report, leaked earlier this week, suggests big problems -- not only in pandemic preparedness, but in relations between B.C.'s two health departments.

In an interview with The Tyee, Dix said the report arrived via regular mail at NDP leader Carole James's constituency office. Another copy reached the Vancouver Sun, which published a report about it on Monday.

The confidential report is a survey of B.C.'s most critical resources for dealing with a pandemic: the number and condition of ventilators for seriously ill patients, the number of intensive care units in the province's hospitals, and the trained staff available for those units.

Among other findings, the report said that a pandemic like that of 1968, the mildest of the last century, would cause a peak shortage of 245 ventilators in the seventh week of the pandemic. It goes on to warn:

British Columbia will likely face a shortage of critical care ventilators to support the estimated impact of the H1N1 surge this winter, even if the clinical scenario remains as mild as has been reported in other parts of the world.

While the data collected suggests that there may be 127 ventilators available, this still remains far short of the need as predicted by the 1968 pandemic surge scenario.

In short, there is little surge capacity for critically ill patients due to pandemic influenza and critical care units will likely face significant challenges in the fall as the fall influenza season begins in British Columbia.

Dix said it was "troubling" that B.C. chief medical officer of health Dr. Perry Kendall did not receive a copy of the report when it was completed on September 9.

"We sent the report to CKNW by email. Then CKNW sent it to Kendall."

Dix speculated that the government's failure to provide Kendall with the report may reflect a communication breakdown between the Ministry of Health Services and the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, where Kendall works.

Dix rejected Health Minister Kevin Falcon's explanation that the report was still a draft and not ready to be released: "Falcon claims it wasn't complete, but its purpose was to detail the number of respirators, therapists, and other resources. It did that. But the government culture works hard to keep reports secret, so they say it's a draft to protect it from Freedom of Information requests."

Dix sent The Tyee a copy of the report. It is a PDF available for downloading at H5N1: News and Resources about Pandemic Influenza.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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