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a mother holding her new baby in a hospital bed

Alberta Prepared for Epidural Shortage

This is a whole different kind of health care pain

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has recently warned that supply chain issues are leading to a global shortage of epidurals. Yikes. In case you aren’t in the know, an epidural is a shot used to numb the pain of childbirth.

That would be a crummy thing to run out of.

Currently, AHS has enough supplies to last over two weeks. Other provinces aren’t as lucky. In some cases, health authorities only have a two- or three-day supply of epidurals. 

In the event that supplies start running out, AHS has begun exploring alternatives. This includes replacing epidurals with general anesthesia, which is not ideal. 

For those of us who aren’t experts on childbirth, it helps to be awake when giving birth. If you’re unconscious, you can’t exactly “push” when the doctor tells you to. 

General anesthesia also means the person giving birth doesn’t get to remember the event. Yes, some people actually want to remember! It also usually means the birth partner has to leave the operating room. It’s good to have the option if it’s really needed, but it’s not exactly best practice for a whole host of reasons.

So far, the AHS has stated there is no immediate impact on patients. 

In the unfortunate event that supplies do run out, the AHS will have to start making some hard choices. For example, epidurals are also used for high-risk births folks who need a cesarean, otherwise known as a C-section.

In the case of an epidural shortage, who would get first priority? Naturally, high-risk patients, right? But making that decision also means using alternatives like general anesthesia for non-high-risk childbirths. And it’s not like we can just press pause on birth until we get more supplies. It really doesn’t work like that.

So the AHS is hoping it won’t have to make those hard calls.

For the time being, Health Canada has not listed an active shortage for epidural devices. Even so, AHS is working with vendors to get urgent supplies. 

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