Some Toronto-area hospitals are reporting a shortage of epidural tubes amid ongoing global supply issues.
William Osler Health System confirmed they were experiencing a shortage to CTV News Toronto Tuesday in a statement, and said they’re “working closely with suppliers and government partners to secure inventory.”
The hospital network says it has developed an “epidural catheter supply” strategy to meet the needs of patients in the meantime.
An epidural tube, or catheter, is a fine piece of plastic used to pierce into the epidural space in a patient’s spine in order to administer pain medication during childbirth. An ongoing global shortage of the devices hit Canada in late July, impacting western provinces more severely initially, according to the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society (CAS).
William Osler Health System is comprised of three hospitals in Toronto – Brampton Civic Hospital, Etobicoke General Hospital and Peel Memorial Hospital.
Lakeridge Health, a network of five hospitals in Durham Region, also told CTV News Toronto they’re facing a “potential shortage” of epidural catheters related to supply chain issues spanning North America.
“Although we have an adequate supply of epidural catheters for the short-term, we are working with our partners at Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health who are actively engaging with Health Canada, suppliers, distributors, and manufacturers across Ontario to understand the current situation and supply forecasts,” Lakeridge communications manager Julie Dowdie said.
When reached for comment, other hospitals, including Sunnybrook Hospital, Michael Garron Hospital, the University Health Network, North York General Hospital, and the Women’s College Hospital said their patients were not currently impacted.
However, each institution said that they are “monitoring the situation closely.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Health told CTV News Toronto they’re aware some Canadian provinces have experienced epidural shortages, but said, at this time, “Ontario has an adequate supply of epidural catheters and women are able to access epidurals for childbirth.”
While the province currently has sufficient supply, the Ministry of Health said that they are tracking inventory in order to assess the need to redistribute epidural catheters.
“Hospitals will receive instructions on how to assess and report on current inventory in the coming days.”
President and Vice President of CAS, Dr. Dolores McKeen and Dr. Lucie Filteau, told CTV News in a joint statement that they were recently made aware of “a critically low supply of epidural catheters across Canada.”
McKeen and Filteau say manufacturers have cited supply chain issues as the cause of the shortage.
“Some companies have estimated that supply will improve significantly by September, but it is still uncertain that epidural catheters will be available in all health care settings by then,” they said.
According to CAS, on average, approximately 50 to 60 per cent of pregnant people in Canada opt for an epidural when in labour.
The society is encouraging patients to discuss pain management options with their health care provider “to establish the most appropriate plan, depending on their individual circumstances and product availability.”