Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for allowing me to speak to Bill C-523, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (disclosure of drug shortages). Before I begin, I want to thank and congratulate my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her hard work and her excellent bill.
This bill 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. It also obliges the minister to prepare and implement an emergency response plan to address shortages of drugs.
Drug shortages in Canada are a major public health problem and the federal government has a role to play in this. The drug shortage phenomenon is nothing new. This has been a recurring problem since the 1970s and there have been successive shortages under Liberal and Conservative governments without either taking action to solve this problem. Nonetheless, it is important to note that these shortages have increased in number and duration over the past few years.
The crisis in 2012, caused by the temporary shutdown of the Sandoz plant, one of the largest manufacturers of injectable drugs for hospitals, clearly showed the scale of this issue. The NDP actually used an opposition day at the time, March 14, 2012, and secured unanimous passage of a motion to resolve the issue. However, as on so many occasions before and since with this government, we have seen a lack of leadership and of will.
Just as with rail safety, air safety, the oil industry and the environment, this government has once again asked industry to regulate itself. We need only mention the many oil pipeline spills, the many railway accidents and the tainted meat scandal to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of industry self-regulation.
In fact, the only effective aspect of industry self-regulation is the effectiveness with which former Conservative members of Parliament have obtained jobs in sectors for which the Conservative government is promoting self-regulation. That could be the topic of another debate all by itself.
Let us return to the subject of the bill, drug shortages. Another reason why it is absolutely necessary to have legislation in this area, possibly the most important reason of all, is the safety of patients.
Drug shortages put patients at risk; they also require doctors, pharmacists and nurses to do extra work and ultimately lead to additional costs for all of us.
According to a survey by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, 91% of pharmacists stated that patients have been affected by drug shortages, either because of delays in treatment or because treatment was stopped, or because of the extra cost to purchase medication, extended hospital stays, procedures being delayed or cancelled, or because the original condition worsened.
In some cases, the impact may be minimal overall. However, in a number of cases, shortages can be catastrophic because the cost associated with medication can skyrocket and become too expensive for individuals who need to be on the drug.
Take a concrete case like epilepsy, where stopping medication sometimes has disastrous consequences. When someone stops taking antiepileptics or the medication is or must be changed suddenly, recurrent seizures can become more serious and longer than before. Prolonged attacks that last more than five minutes require emergency medical care and can even be fatal.
How does that tie in to the debate? Between 2009 and 2012, we experienced shortages of at least five different antiepileptic drugs. Some of them were made by a single pharmaceutical company.
These shortages have forced some people to use a different preparation, if available, or to switch medications without any transition, thus putting at risk the lives of all these people.
A government must protect its citizens. What did the government do? Once again, it shirked its responsibilities and blamed the provinces, its second favourite target after the official opposition. Indeed, the government said that, in its opinion, the provinces were responsible for changing their procurement policies.
However, that is not the opinion of the Quebec Minister of Health, Dr. Réjean Hébert, who unequivocally said the following, in the May 10, 2013, edition of L'actualité:
It is also Health Canada's responsibility to manage drug shortages. If the federal government was doing a better job, there would be fewer drug shortages.
It is high time that the federal government take responsibility. It can do so by voting for the bill we are debating today.
First and foremost, we are asking the government to adopt a system for the mandatory disclosure of drug shortages, as called for by the vast majority of patient and health professional groups. Canadians and their health professionals are entitled to have access to information that is crucial for public health.
That system is used in the United States, the European Union and New Zealand. France also adopted a system in the early 1990s and saw a significant drop in the number of shortages.
We are also urging the government to stop being so confrontational with the provinces and territories. We are asking it to work with them and with stakeholders to find a solution that will decrease the number of shortages and reduce their impact on patients and on our health care system.
According to statistics from the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec, the number of drug shortages rose from 33 in 2006 to 207 in 2010. That is unacceptable, dangerous and outrageous. It must be fixed right away. That is why we are asking everyone in the House to support the bill that was introduced by the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
I would like to conclude with a message for Canadians. The NDP believes that the health of Canadians is more important than profits for pharmaceutical companies. With this bill, we are taking the appropriate steps to ensure that Canadians will have access to the drugs they need, when they need them.
When it comes time to vote on this bill, we hope that the Conservative government, for once, will also put the interests of Canadians ahead of those of pharmaceutical companies.