No Legal Requirement to Cut Lab Services

Residents around Thessalon and on St. Joseph Island, both east of Sault St. Marie in northern Ontario, have been recently told that their community hospitals will no longer be taking blood samples ordered by their family doctors. This follows a trend across Ontario to force all non-hospital patients to use for-profit laboratories, even if, as it is in the Algoma region, it is much more inconvenient for patients and more expensive.

The communications officer for the Sault Area Hospital, the mother ship of these two local hospitals, gave as the reason for cutting lab services that conditions of their laboratory’s licence and provisions of the Public Hospitals Act prohibited hospitals from servicing community patients.  According to a newspaper column in the Sault Star this information had been given to the hospital by a spokesperson for the Laboratory Licensing Branch of Ontario’s Ministry of Health.  Nothing about this story rings true.

I can find nothing in the laboratory’s licence, found on-line at http://www.qmpls.org, that restricts what patient’s provide the samples to be tested and it would be very much out of line for the quality assurance service to make this ruling.  Their job is to ensure that the tests results are accurate, not who can provide the blood.  Also, I can find no prohibitions against performing community patients’ tests in the Public Hospitals Act or its regulations.

I also read the current Hospital Service Accountability Agreement between the Sault Area Hospital and the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and could find no reference to who can use hospital faculties to have their samples taken or restrictions on what tests can be performed in the hospital’s laboratory.

The story from the Ministry of Health also does not ring true because hospitals in Ontario take requisitions from family doctors for diagnostic imaging on a daily basis.  Hospitals in Ontario have been performing tests on community patients since their inception, many since the middle of the last century, and I can find no recent substantive legislative changes that would restrict these activities.

All of these factors point to the conclusion that the hospital’s spokesperson was given misleading information to justify reducing access to needed laboratory services.  The real question is where did this order come from?

The coordination of these service cuts across Ontario strongly suggests that it is a Ministry of Health directive, but so far no one has come forward and provided the evidence.  Until this happens local hospital executives will continue to take the flack and provide stories to cover someone’s butt, probably the Minister of Health’s. So much for openness, accountability, strengthening the public healthcare system and improving access, all stated goals of the Ministry of Health.

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