Lab Canada

CSMLS calls on federal government to protect patient safety

Ottawa, ON – Representatives from the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) met with members of parliament today to discuss issues that directly impact patient safety in medical laboratories.

“We are concerned that human resource shortages and interprovincial labour mobility are overshadowing the need to maintain high standards of practice for health care professionals,” says Shelby Giesbrecht, CSMLS president. “As a result, there is pressure to lower standards for health care professionals, including medical laboratory technologists.”

The meetings come at a crucial time, as recommendations from the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Hormone Receptor Testing in Newfoundland and Labrador (the Cameron Report) and the report on the Commission of Inquiry into Pathology Services in New Brunswick (the Creaghan Report), focus attention on the critical role that medical laboratory professionals play in patient safety.

Of specific concern are revisions to the Agreement on Internal Trade, which came into effect on April 1, 2009, that call the future of national certification for medical laboratory technologists into question. “As we understand it, regulatory bodies across Canada that currently require national certification of medical laboratory technologists may be prevented from doing so in the future,” says Ms Giesbrecht.

National certification, which has been in place since 1937, helps ensure that medical laboratory technologists are competent to practise safely and effectively. “We believe that eroding the requirement for national certification will lower standards and compromise patient safety. Justice Cameron’s report was very clear that addressing human resource shortages must not come at the expense of lowering standards,” she adds.

CSMLS is also urging provincial governments to regulate medical laboratory assistants who perform important pre-analytical procedures, such as collecting blood samples. Medical laboratory assistants can obtain national certification from the CSMLS. The certification, however, is voluntary as medical laboratory assistants are currently not regulated in any Canadian province or territory.

In 2001, CSMLS issued a report that predicted that over half of Canada’s medical laboratory technologists would be eligible to retire by the year 2016. Since that time, provincial and federal governments have taken steps to address the shortage of medical laboratory technologists. Existing education programs were expanded and new programs opened. Data collection for the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s human resource database for medical laboratory technologists is nearing completion. Once established, the database will provide a solid foundation for human resource planning.

“We are pleased at the progress that has been made but at the same time, we recognize that there is still much more to be done. We are calling on provincial and federal governments to pick up the pace on implementing the action plan proposed in the Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning,” says Ms Giesbrecht. The framework was developed by the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources in 2005.

CSMLS is urging governments to invest in clinical education, integration of internationally educated health care professionals, quality of work life initiatives and recruitment into health care professions – all of which are addressed in the action plan.

“Canadians have a right to expect that the people who conduct their laboratory tests are qualified and competent. After all, up to 85% of decisions about diagnosis and treatment are based on the results of laboratory tests,” says Ms. Giesbrecht. “Working together with governments, regulatory bodies and employers, we are confident that we can implement human resource strategies that do not sacrifice the high standards of practice for medical laboratory professionals that Canadian have come to expect.”