In Saskatchewan, a drug shortage team in the Ministry of Health has received the inaugural Deputy Minister’s Award of Excellence for its innovative approach to managing a 2012 injectable drug shortage. Their leadership exemplified the Patient First approach by reducing the potential for cancelled surgeries and other procedures. The impact of the drug shortage on patient care was minimized as a result of the team’s actions.
The shortage dealt with approximately 70 percent of the injectable drugs used in Saskatchewan hospitals and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, and other products required by patients on palliative care in the community.
Team members worked closely with many partners in the field including Regional Health Authorities, the Saskatchewan Drug Information Service, drug manufacturers, and other federal, provincial and territorial governments to identify drug alternatives during the shortage.
“Our goal was to facilitate an integrated response by the health system or, in our Deputy Minister’s words, to think and act as one,” said Kevin Wilson, the executive director of the Drug Plan and Extended Benefits Branch at the Ministry of Health.
Every physician, nurse and pharmacist in the province received a joint letter alerting them to the situation and asking for their cooperation to limit the impact on patients. As a result, drug supplies were shifted to where they were needed most and standardized approaches to prioritizing the use of drugs were adopted across the health system.
“There have been drug shortages in the past and ensuring that alternative drugs are available if drug supplies are low is one of our priorities,” explained Tracey Smith, the director of Pharmaceutical Services with the Drug Plan and Extended Benefits Branch. “However, we soon realized this particular shortage was unique and had the potential to impact the entire country.”
The Ministry team spent many hours in discussion with stakeholders. Complicated drug allocation processes had to be coordinated, requiring communication between the federal government, the manufacturer, regional health authorities and community pharmacies.
“Our provincial approach and our ability to engage with all of our stakeholders allowed best practices to be shared quickly,” Smith added.
Saskatchewan’s response was effective. Alternative drugs were added to the drug formulary that could be used in place of shorted drugs. Supplies were arranged for community pharmacists who provide medication management services to palliative care patients, and policy advisors stepped up when people asked tough questions such as, “How will we determine who gets the limited drugs that are available?”
One of the greatest accomplishments and lasting legacies of the shortage is a provincial ethical framework created by provincial ethics experts and clinical leaders in the health system. It will guide decision-making around drug supplies if drug shortages occur in the future.
The Deputy Minister of Health’s Award of Excellence acknowledges outstanding customer service, exemplary teamwork, living Ministry values every day, improving our culture, and/or helping meet the needs of patients and families better. The Ministry’s Drug Shortage Team were Kevin Wilson, Tracey Smith, Anne Champagne, Gail Bradley, Linda LaPlante, and Loretta Frigon.
The shared ownership approach to ensuring stable drug supplies has continued. Going forward the Ministry of Health, Health Canada, regional health authorities and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency continue to work together to monitor the province’s drug supplies, and to reduce the potential impact on patient care.
Karen Prokopetz is the director of Internal Communications with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.