Global epidural shortage not affecting obstetrical care, Ottawa hospitals say

The Ottawa Hospital said Wednesday it is monitoring the situation and seeking out other sources for the device, but that the shortage hasn’t affected patient care.

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Supply chain issues are being blamed for a global shortage of equipment needed for epidurals, although Ottawa hospitals say care for mothers in childbirth has not been affected.

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Epidural catheters are used to deliver pain relief directly into the spine of mothers giving birth. A shortage of the tubes is already affecting hospitals in Western Canada.

The Ottawa Hospital said Wednesday it is monitoring the situation and seeking out other sources for the device, but that the shortage hasn’t affected patient care.

“The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) continues to manage its supply of epidural catheters while ensuring that there is no impact on patient care. We are working closely with other suppliers to find substitutes and alternatives as we navigate this supply chain issue,” TOH said in an emailed statement to this paper.

The situation is the same at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.

“Epidural catheters — and their associated trays — are currently on allocation and rolling back-orders with vendors. QCH’s procurement team is working closely with our suppliers and our clinical teams to ensure we have appropriate, clinically-approved substitute products available for patients. These backorders have not impacted our patients,” the hospital said in an emailed statement.

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The Montfort Hospital, too, says it has adequate supplies of the device, at least for now.

“At Montfort, we do have sufficient supplies to offer an epidural to every patient who needs one, at this time,” spokesperson Martin Sauvé said in an email. “We are keeping a close eye on possible shortages and contingency plans are in the works at a regional level to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need.”

Last week, Health Canada reported a shortage of FlexTip Plus Epidural Catheterization Kits, which are manufactured in North Carolina by Arrow International. The shortage is expected to last until December and comes on top of an existing shortage of epidural catheters manufactured by Smiths Medical ASD. That shortage was listed by Health Canada in April and was expected to last until the end of August.

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Nitrous oxide gas and powerful painkillers such as morphine and fentanyl can be used during childbirth, although epidurals are considered the gold standard for a mother’s pain relief.

In Quebec, the president of the province’s association of anesthesiologists told the CBC on Wednesday that the province had about a month’s supply of catheters. Last week, The Calgary Herald reported that Alberta Health Services had more than two weeks’ supply of catheters and that no patient care had been affected. B.C. and Saskatchewan have also reported shortages.

Epidurals are used in about three of every five deliveries in Canada, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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