ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A Newfoundland pathologist working for a health board at the centre of a public inquiry into botched breast-cancer tests has decided to quit – the second to do so since the inquiry began two months ago.
Dr. Daniel Fontaine said he will tender his resignation from Eastern Health on Thursday because of its inability to recruit and retain pathologists.
“I feel for the patients most. I feel for the pathologists who are left behind,” the St. John’s pathologist said in an interview Wednesday.
“I’ve been touched by cancer myself. My father just recently passed away with this. It’s very close to me and I sympathize with the patients, but I hope that if anything, there can be some good to come of all of this at the end of the day.”
Eastern Health has been under scrutiny for nearly a year since it was revealed that more than 300 patients were given inaccurate results on their breast-cancer tests.
An inquiry began in March that has shed light on communications and laboratory problems at Eastern Health, as well as a glaring shortage of pathologists.
Fontaine said his resignation had nothing to do with the findings arising from the inquiry, but added he’s noticed a growing level of stress amongst his colleagues.
“The inquiry doesn’t help things, there’s no question, but things were bad before,” he said. “It’s causing a tremendous amount of stress on those who are left behind.”
Premier Danny Williams said he has also noticed the growing hardship of pathologists in the province.
“There’s a morale problem,” he said. “Everybody’s under pressure.”
Dr. Beverley Carter, the province’s only breast pathologist, tendered her resignation from Eastern Health three weeks ago. Another pathologist has since gone on stress leave.
Eastern Health’s chief of laboratory medicine, Dr. Nash Denic, said at the time that pathologists were finding it increasingly difficult to work in Newfoundland.
Eastern Health is supposed to have a full compliment of 19 pathologists, but with Fontaine’s resignation, it will be down to 11.
Robert Ritter, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, said the latest departure will increase already crushing workloads for the remaining pathologists.
“It’s sort of a vicious cycle,” Ritter said. “I’m hoping that the hemorrhaging ends now.”
Peter Dawe, executive director of the provincial branch of the Canadian Cancer Society , said he was concerned that the province’s shortage of pathologists could result in delays for patients awaiting diagnostic test results.
“We need some reassurances here that the timeliness of these testing procedures isn’t going to be affected,” Dawe said.
“The onus is on Eastern Health to speak out and say where are we with the lab in St. John’s as far as the capacity to meet the needs of any patient, and particularly cancer patients.”
A spokeswoman for Eastern Health said the organization couldn’t comment on Fontaine’s resignation until it receives it.