The Harper Government is making it mandatory for drug companies to post public notices when they are running out of a given drug. For years, doctors, patients, and Canada’s medical organizations have been lobbying to mandate posting of shortages. This sensible piece of legislation should have been introduced long ago, rather than the voluntary system the Harper government previously put in place.
In 2011, 90% of pharmacists in Canada had trouble filling prescriptions due to shortages. Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose, explained that posting shortage information will be useful to patients and doctors alike. According to Ambrose, the only way for the government to ensure that patients and doctors are properly informed is to create a mandatory system.
Although the details have yet to be worked out, it’s likely the Opposition will support such a move. After all, they were the ones who originally proposed it. Had Bill C-52 passed last year (February 2014), the mandatory posting of drug shortages would have already been law.
The Summary of Bill C-523 was the following:
This enactment amends the Department of Health Act to oblige drug suppliers to advise the Minister of any interruption or cessation of the production, distribution or importation of drugs and to oblige the Minister to prepare and implement an emergency response plan to address shortages of drugs.
The Bill called for an introduction of a mandatory system of reporting drug shortages, a system already in place in the United States and many European countries. In 2011-2012 alone allowed, this the States to avoid 195 disastrous drug shortages. This Bill was presented by Djaouida Sella, a Quebec NDP MP in late 2013. In February of 2014, it received a second reading in the House and died on the order paper when it failed 152-124. All the opposition parties in existence at the time supported it and every Conservative MP voted against it.
Granted, only two Conservatives took the initiative to speak in the debate, both seemingly way over their heads when dealing with health issues—even though one speaker was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. Neither Tory was a health care professional. Neither had worked for a health agency or even a pharmaceutical company before. Not only was Djaouida Sella a doctor, so where most of the NDP and Liberal MPs who spoke in favour of the Bill. The rest had, for the most part, worked in some health agency or another. Experts vs. Clampetts.
In the very limited debates on this Bill, Tory MP Ted Opitz (a soldier and political consultant) pointed out that Ambrose would be working to improve communications strategies about drug shortages. What he didn’t say was that she would be presenting the same Bill as the one presented by Sella. Eve Adams, then a Conservative MP, struggled to comprehend exactly what the Bill was going to do, and dismissed U.S. and European practices as problematic if introduced in Canada. They would be costly, and lead to more bureaucracy.
The Bill’s passage would also help Canadians and give the NDP and the Liberals a boost in the polls. Obviously, the government couldn’t approve of the Opposition’s motion, so they voted it down, reworded it, and waited a year to introduce it themselves—a typical political practice.
Debate on this Bill will be very interesting. Who will side with whom?