Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Toronto Centre.
I stand here today to support the motion brought forward by the New Democratic Party which calls for the setting up of a co-operative mechanism, “co-operative” being the operative word, with all of the provinces, territories and stakeholders requiring the manufacturer to report promptly to the government about the distribution, et cetera, of drugs and to expedite review of new drugs that could replace old ones.
This is a comprehensive motion and I support it, but I do not think it is enough. If we look at best practices in other jurisdictions, there are other things that could be done that would also help, but the motion is a good start and I support it.
I intend to move an amendment at the end of my speech to add something which I think would enhance the motion.
There has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about this problem. I want to talk about the scope and nature of this problem, why it is so important, and why there was an emergency debate two nights ago, and I thank the Speaker for allowing the emergency debate.
This is not a new issue. In 2006 shortages began to escalate at 400% the number of shortages there were prior to 2006. As a result, many countries immediately took steps to ramp up their ability to anticipate and track shortages, and to find substitutions and ways of ensuring there was the necessary supply of drugs.
It has been mentioned that we continue to compare ourselves to the United States. Many of us who have been around here for quite a long time actually understand the way government works. We understand provincial and territorial jurisdiction. We understand the Constitution of Canada. We also understand there are parallel systems that can be looked at with regard to best practices.
We have heard the government say that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mirrors a lot of what Health Canada is supposed to do in terms of making sure that there is a safe, reliable supply of medically necessary drugs for Canadians to use. In 2006, a drug shortage program was created within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Canadian government could easily have set up a similar program within Health Canada to anticipate shortages, to work with the provinces, territories, manufacturers, et cetera, to prevent those shortages from causing risk to the lives and health of Canadians. This is what most of us are concerned about here. It is not about being political, pointing fingers and saying the government did not do this or that. The point is that because very little has been done, every single day in this country the lives of patients are being put at risk because of drug shortages.
The Liberal Party flagged this back in the summer of 2011. We suggested that the government should take a similar approach, to anticipate and to flag shortages and to ensure that there is a supply. This did not happen and we therefore took it to the health committee to investigate. We did what we thought were the appropriate things to do. We felt there was an inappropriate response from the government. We held a round table in September last year in which we brought together the stakeholders to discuss what should be done and to determine the nature and scope of the problem.
Of course, the stakeholders told us the same thing, that there needs to be an urgent investigation into the problem and a look at best practices. We were told that the federal government has a key role to play, a leadership role, in coordinating all of the stakeholders, the provinces, the territories and the health care providers in order to anticipate and identify shortages and manage the system.
Today we heard in the news that two major hospitals that conduct open heart surgery in British Columbia, St. Paul's Hospital and Vancouver General, have actually postponed all of their elective cardiac surgery. Those are the two major centres in British Columbia. They have postponed elective cardiac surgery because they only have one week's supply left of protamine, a drug that is absolutely necessary for open heart surgery. They are holding that supply in case an emergency cardiac surgery needs to be done. Everyone is waiting.
At the heart of this problem is the fact that they do not know when there will be a supply, how long there will be a shortage, or what other drugs that are necessary for open heart surgery will be in short supply in the future. Therefore, they are concerned. It is fine for the government to say it knows that everyone will care for their patients. Yes, they can care and yes they can wish to do something, but if they do not have the required drugs for intervention, surgery, or to keep someone's chronic disease from getting worse, or to save someone's life, what will they do? Wishing will not make it happen. All the best intent in the world will not make it happen.
I have brought forward that bit of history to let members know why we are concerned about this. When other jurisdictions in other countries saw this four years ago and began taking steps, we wonder why the government continued to pretend it was not a problem.
Two years ago we found there was a rapid increase in the shortages, even from the shortages that existed four years ago. They doubled. We found that in the month of March alone there was a shortage of 250 new drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States, which has a lot of the same capability, capacity and mandate as the health department here, actually doubled the number of people working on their drug shortages program. It upped the ante in terms of making sure that it moved forward. We saw that the President of the United States and Congress were so concerned that they immediately began to bring forward three new bills to deal with the issue and to strengthen the hand of government to deal with the issue. In November 2011, we saw the president himself issue an immediate order to avert shortages and to have departments work together and do what they needed to do because, as he said, “it is the belief of this administration...that we cannot wait”.
Yet Canada's Prime Minister has shown no such leadership. Canada's Minister of Health has shown no such leadership. They waited until everything fell apart with the Sandoz problem here before paying attention. Then, instead of saying, “Let us see what other jurisdictions are doing, let us find out what we can do, let us move quickly now and say that we're sorry that we didn't pay attention earlier on, let's work with provinces and territories”—understanding that they had already got contractual obligations with other suppliers and that they could not break those contracts—“let's see what we can do to help them, let us work together with the stakeholders, and let's become very proactive”. Instead, there was blaming.
This is what bothers me. It is one thing to suggest that one now cares. It is another thing to say, “Don't look at me. It's not my fault. By the way, we're going to wait and see what we can do if something else happens”.
That is unacceptable. Canadians, physicians, and the Canadian Medical Association have all issued directives for the government to take the same kind of proactive stance in anticipation of and looking at shortages and managing them well.
There is a real problem here. If we want to talk about what the government could have done in taking a proactive stance in terms of identifying shortages really early and anticipating them, here is what jurisdictions have done within their own drug departments. I want to use the Food and Drug Administration's drug shortages program, which I think the government could have set up within Health Canada. They looked at manufacturing problems. They worked one on one with manufacturers, knowing that they could not make manufacturers make different business decisions and that they could not force manufacturers to create new jobs. Instead, what they did was to work with the manufacturers. They let other manufacturers who were making similar drugs know that they could actually speed up production, that they would help them to have the capacity to quickly produce more drugs. They looked at how some firms were only producing one drug and when they found out that the largest firm among that group was going to stop, they asked other firms, “Can you speed up production? Can you increase your capacity? What can we do?” That is called anticipation. It is a proactive management solution to a problem.
We need to look at Sandoz. The minister and the Department of Health inspect the manufacturing plant. If they had seen that the manufacturing plant was having problems with one set of drugs, they should have known that there was going to be a problem. They should have worked with Sandoz to help them deal with that.
I could go on. There are lots of incentives that could be provided to help create a proper supply chain, but at the end of the day, the problem has occurred at Sandoz. There is a crisis. There are some good ideas coming forward here from those of us in the House. We want to work with the minister. We want to make sure that patients are not harmed or hurt. If that is the bottom line and if the government agrees with us that this is in fact something we should care about, let us come together and pass this motion and move on. Let us work together to find the right kinds of solutions.