04/05/2013 11:45 EDT | Updated 06/05/2013 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick is joining Ontario in investigation of diluted chemotherapy

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick is joining Ontario in an investigation to determine how diluted chemotherapy drugs were given to more than 1,100 patients in the two provinces.

New Brunswick Health Minister Hugh Flemming says his department will participate in an independent review of the quality control and supply chain for compounded drugs.

"The New Brunswick Cancer Network and the Horizon Health Network are working collaboratively with Cancer Care Ontario, the Ontario hospitals and the supplier to find out what happened," Flemming said Friday in the legislature.

Many hospitals mix the medications themselves, but four hospitals in Ontario and the Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick all used Marchese Hospital Solutions to prepare the drugs.

There was too much saline added to the bags of chemotherapy medications — diluting the prescribed drug concentrations by three to 20 per cent.

The supplier has suggested that the problem wasn't how the drugs were prepared, but how they were administered at the hospitals.

Flemming said while he wants answers as soon as possible, he's not setting any deadline on the investigation.

"What matters here is getting the right answer and dealing with it as quickly as possible and making sure these types of regrettable things don't happen again," he said.

Flemming spoke Friday for the first time about the problem after declining media requests earlier this week to discuss what happened.

Donald Arseneault, the Liberal health critic, said he was glad the minister finally spoke out on the issue.

"I think it was important that he stood up in the legislature," Arseneault said. "Hopefully he'll stand up again soon when he has some results from the ongoing investigation."

The Saint John hospital is contacting the 186 New Brunswick patients to arrange appointments with their oncologists.

Liberal member Rick Doucet said he has heard from a number of affected patients in his riding of Charlotte-the Isles.

"You can certainly feel the sincerity of the stress they have in their minds," he said.

Flemming said though the investigation will strictly focus on the chemotherapy drugs, he believes it would be prudent at some point to look at other drug supplies as well.

"It does make good sense to me that that issue be expanded somewhat to make sure there aren't some other things like this," he said.