04/03/2013 09:00 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Almost 200 New Brunswick patients received diluted doses of chemotherapy

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - A hospital in Saint John, N.B., says it is trying to determine how 186 of its patients were given diluted doses of a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancers and other medical conditions.

The Saint John Regional Hospital said Wednesday it is attempting to notify the patients and their families about the weakened doses of cyclophosphamide (sy-klo-fos-fah-mide), nearly a week after it became aware of the problem.

A spokeswoman for the local health board said the hospital purchased the affected drug from Marchese Hospital Solutions in Ontario beginning in March 2012 and it is working with the supplier to find out what caused the error.

Dr. Eshwar Kumar, the CEO of the New Brunswick Cancer Network, said the drug was diluted by as much as 20 per cent but he doubts it would have much impact on patients.

"My gut instinct as an oncologist and speaking very generally, it is probably of very minimal impact, but every patient would have to be evaluated individually," Kumar said.

"I don't see a situation where a patient would be called back to be given more chemotherapy."

Kumar said the hospital is no longer buying the drug from Marchese Hospital Solutions and is instead mixing it in-house.

Marchese Hospital Solutions said it is concerned by the questions raised about the quality of its work and it is addressing those issues.

"Our preliminary investigation of this issue leads us to be confident that we have met the quality specifications of the contract," the company said on its website.

Kumar said the hospital is sending registered letters to each of the affected patients and oncologists are also contacting patients directly.

At the provincial legislature in Fredericton, Premier David Alward said he was concerned after hearing about the diluted dosages.

"We feel for anyone who is dealing with cancer to start with, and then to get this news," Alward said.

The hospital's announcement comes one day after four Ontario hospitals said they were contacting close to 1,000 cancer patients because of the same problem.

A total of 990 patients treated or being treated at the London Health Sciences Centre, the Windsor Regional Hospital, Lakeridge Health in Oshawa and Peterborough Regional Health Centre are affected.

— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.