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Lead in drinking water, cuts to physicians’ on-call pay, and boozy kombucha in this week’s top Canadian health stories.

Health News Recap

  • High levels of lead in drinking water have been found in cities across Canada, according to a national investigation involving more than 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organizations. Out of 12,000 tests conducted in 11 cities since 2014, a third exceeded the national limit for lead in drinking water of five parts per billion.
  • More than 550 surgical items were unintentionally left inside Canadian patients between 2016 and 2018, up 14% from five years earlier and more than two times the average rate among 12 peer countries. Canada also had the highest rate of severe tears during vaginal childbirth among 23 countries and the highest rate of avoidable complications after surgery among 12 countries.
  • Doctors warned that the health of rural patients may be put at risk by a $10-million-per-year cut to Alberta’s specialist-on-call program. Doctors with specialist training who used to make $18.27 per hour to be on call will now make $11.50.
  • Thousands of Quebec nurses will refuse to work overtime in a second day-long strike. The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé, which represents about 76,000 health care workers in Quebec including nurses, says overreliance on mandatory overtime is exhausting workers and leading some to quit.
  • The BC Centre for Disease Control and BC Institute of Technology are testing alcohol levels in kombucha, a popular fermented drink, after some bottles in the United States and Australia were found to have as much alcohol as beer or cider. Health officials cautioned that the level of alcohol in kombucha can be unpredictable, which may be risky for some people, such as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Manitoba committed $2.4 million over three years to expand walk-in mental health care and specialized trauma counselling. The investment will include creating a seven-day-a-week centralized trauma intake and referral service and hiring more therapists to provide individual and group counselling to women who have experienced sexual abuse.
  • Some patients in Nova Scotia are forced to travel for psychiatric care because the province has too few mental health beds. Mental health advocates say travelling is disruptive for patients and their families, however, health officials say sending patients to other hospitals ensures they get treatment sooner.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer send transgender patients to Ontario to determine whether they may undergo gender confirmation surgery. Spurred by a human rights complaint earlier this year, the province announced a list of local health professionals approved to provide transition surgery assessments.
  • The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses warned that overcapacity issues have resulted in the death of a patient at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital. According to the union’s president, the death was linked to understaffing in the emergency room, however, the health authority determined the death was not a critical incident.
  • Toronto doctors performed the first robot-assisted brain surgery on a live patient. The success of the procedure paves the way for robot-assisted brain surgeries to be performed remotely in rural and isolated areas where local expertise is not available.

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