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Top doctor decries political 'finger pointing' over drug shortage

John Haggie, president of the Canadian Medical Association, speaks to reporters during a meeting of provincial premiers on health care in Victoria on Jan. 17, 2012.

ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark/Reuters

Politicians failed Canadians during the recent drug shortage by engaging in a blame game rather than finding real solutions to a life-threatening situation, the head of the Canadian Medical Association says.

John Haggie told the Commons health committee Thursday that the 76,000 doctors represented by his association and the Canadians they serve want to remind members of Parliament that they are the country's leaders.

"At a time like this, when Canadians are facing what is nothing less than a national crisis, they look to you and your peers in legislatures across the country to exercise that leadership and live up to the trust that has been placed in you," Dr. Haggie said.

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"At the risk of sounding harsh, the early finger pointing between governments was anything but a demonstration of leadership."

As hospitals scrambled earlier this month to implement contingency plans in the face of a cross-country shortage of injectable drugs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid the blame at the feet of the provinces. "Certain provinces have undertaken to sole-source certain critical medications," he told Parliament.

Since that time, there has been progress, Dr. Haggie said. For instance, the federal government recently announced it would open its stocks of medicines to provinces experiencing shortages.

"While I am not sure of the type of drugs this would cover or what the process involves, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction," he said. "Also encouraging is the fact that Health Canada has fast-tracked approvals of alternative drugs."

But Dr. Haggie said he was disappointed the focus of the generic and name brand pharmaceutical companies has been on providing information on drug shortages.

"Information about the problem of drug shortages is no substitute for fixing it," said the doctor, who went on to explain the broad range of impacts.

Clinical treatment is interrupted, putting patients at risk of relapse, and surgeries are cancelled, which can lead to a deterioration in the health of those patients forced to wait, Dr. Haggie explained.

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Shortages also lead to an increase in the consumption of health-care resources, the CMA chief said, because of the need for additional monitoring, multiple consultations among health care providers, including physicians, and/or emergency room visits.

"To put it bluntly, while doctors are trying to source medicines or alternatives for drugs that should be readily available to patients," he said, "other patients have to wait longer to be seen and cared for."

Dr. Haggie said both pharmacies and physicians need a monitoring and early notification system and t here must also be a proactive, systematic mechanism to prevent interruptions in the provision of medically necessary medications to our patients.

The CMA, he said, encourages the government "to consider every lever available, including the economic inducements it provides to the pharmaceutical industry, to ensure that Canadians are assured of an uninterrupted supply of medically necessary drugs."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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