Mr. Speaker, this is the most severe drug shortage that our country has ever experienced. The current shortage is having serious consequences. Among other things, surgeries had to be cancelled in some hospitals in Quebec, many pharmacists, health professionals, as well as managers and administrative employees in hospitals are working extremely hard to find alternative drugs and new suppliers. Health professionals do not know whether they will be able to give the treatments required and patients are unsure whether they will be able to receive treatment.
And these are only the direct and visible effects of the current shortage. What I find even more fascinating is the government's reaction; once again, it is improvising. The government seems surprised by the shortage. I am prepared to admit that the unfortunate events that occurred at the Sandoz facility, which is located very near my riding, could not have been predicted. However, a possible drug shortage created by the temporary closure of a generic drug factory, regardless of where it is found and what drugs it manufactures, is a much more predictable situation.
We do not have to look very far back in history to see that the current phenomenon is not an isolated or unique event. It is a recurrent trend. I can list some problems that have occurred in just the past few months.
In August 2011, as a result of the temporary closure of the Ben Venue Laboratories factory, there was a shortage of about a dozen drugs in Canada, some of which are used to treat cancer and have no substitutes. The situation was the same as that at Sandoz. In December, we learned of a shortage of misoprostol, a drug used in obstetrics to reduce post-partum hemorrhaging. There is no substitute for misoprostol available on the market and, according to an article in La Presse, the drug will not be available until 2013.
Last October, the media reported a recurrent shortage of some anti-epileptic drugs. For many drugs, a shortage means that a new supplier or an equivalent drug must be found. Things are not that simple in the case of certain anti-epileptic drugs. Many of these drugs are not very profitable and thus are not manufactured by very many factories. So, when production is temporarily stopped, there are few or no alternate suppliers.
Over the past few years, some patients have been told at the their local pharmacy that their medication was out of stock. What adds to the problem is that, for patients who take anti-epileptic drugs, it is very dangerous to suddenly change medications. Change must be made gradually in order to ensure the patient's safety. The problem is that, without a mandatory reporting system for drug shortages, it is difficult for patients to transition smoothly to new drugs when their regular drugs are not available.
I have brought these facts before the House in order to make two very specific points. First, the drug shortage has real and concrete impacts on Canadians, and we should be concerned. Second, I wanted to show that the current drug shortage was a foreseeable situation but that the government ignored the warning signs.
Speaking through its mouthpiece, the Minister of Health, the government seemed so proud of its plan when the NDP questioned it during a Standing Committee on Health meeting. Today we see that the plan is completely ineffective and inadequate. I hope that the minister sees that she should have done more and that earlier shortages should have raised a red flag.
I would like to add that the Canadian Medical Association consulted its members on this subject in January 2011. The results of the consultation were very interesting. Three out of four respondents said that they had had problems with drug shortages in the previous year. Two-thirds of respondents said that the shortages caused what they considered to be serious consequences for patients.
Once again, Canadian patients are paying for the Conservatives' bad health care decisions. What is of even greater concern is the fact that patients are living in fear, wondering whether the surgery they have already been waiting a year to have will be postponed once again because of the minister's complacency. They are the ones who go to the pharmacy hoping that they will not have to run all over town to get their prescriptions.
Today, the drug shortage in hospitals has led to this emergency debate, and we must examine the problem. However, we must never forget all the Canadians who need their medications on a daily basis.
According to the Canadian Medical Association survey, the majority of drugs that are in short supply are once again, first and foremost, antibiotics such as penicillin, anti-depressants and antihypertensives. These drugs are used on a daily basis by thousands of Canadians and a shortage creates uncertainty that should not exist.
The events of the past few weeks with respect to Sandoz have highlighted a problem that has existed for quite some time.
We must now find a solution to guarantee that Canadians can have the care they deserve and to which they are entitled. We must find a solution to guarantee the supply of drugs for our hospitals and our patients.
In closing, I would simply like to say that the drug shortage is a public health problem.
We need to make people the focus of our actions and our deliberations. We need to act immediately, for the people.