02/29/2012 07:26 EST | Updated 04/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Burnaby Hospital Bacteria Deaths Spark NDP Call For Investigation

VICTORIA - British Columbia's health minister insists a Vancouver-area hospital is safe despite concerns raised by medical staff and an infectious disease expert about 84 bacteria-related deaths at the hospital since 2009.

Officials at Burnaby Hospital are making significant progress battling ongoing problems with Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C. difficile, Health Minister Mike de Jong said Wednesday.

De Jong did not rule out calling in the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to review the hospital's management of the issue, but he stressed Burnaby Hospital officials have the most-up-to-date data and tools to fight the bacteria.

"Burnaby Hospital is safe," he said. "And the people working there, the clinicians, the support staff are working hard to keep it safe, and the health authority will continue to monitor the situation."

The New Democrat Opposition demanded an independent investigation of the 84 bacteria-related deaths at Burnaby Hospital over the past 30 months.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the government must call in the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to probe the high number of C. difficile deaths at the hospital since 2009.

Dix cited a January 9 letter to the Fraser Health Authority, signed by seven Burnaby Hospital medical department heads and one infectious disease expert, that cites 473 serious cases of C. difficile at the hospital and 84 deaths.

The letter said there are serious and sustained problems with C. difficile at Burnaby Hospital, adding that the situation presents a case of medical negligence that could result legal action.

"Such is the degree of the CDAD (C. difficile-associated disease) problem and the ineffectual response to it, that we believe it could objectively be considered medical negligence," stated the letter. "As such, we believe the Fraser Health Authority has placed itself at significant risk of medical legal action."

The letter said sustained C. difficile infection rates at Burnaby Hospital are two to three times the national and provincial averages for more than the last two years.

Fraser Health Authority president Nigel Murray responded to the concerns with a letter last month, saying the hospital is making significant strides to reduce C. difficile at Burnaby Hospital.

"The high rates of CDI (C. difficile infection) at Burnaby Hospital have been the focus of a number of initiatives for the past several years," Murray said in the letter. "We have been making significant strides to reduce the incidence of CDI and associated morbidity and mortality."

Dix said the government needs to take stronger action to clean up the problems at the hospital.

"There's a problem with infection control at Burnaby Hospital," he said. "This is evident from the government's own data. Action needs to be taken."