Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Experts skewer the Harper team on the isotope file

Just like the judges of the Federal Court of late on national security cases, medical experts too are speaking some hard truths about the government's handling of the isotope crisis. Nuclear medicine specialists appeared at the Natural Resources Committee of the Commons yesterday and did not hold back in their criticism of the Harper government. Many of their statements were totally contrary to the spin that Ministers Raitt and Aglukkaq have been offering the Canadian public in the House of Commons. Here's a sampling of what the experts had to say yesterday.

From Canwest's report:

"The government does not seem to be able to recognize this catastrophe," Francois Lamoureux, president of the Quebec Association of Nuclear Medicine Specialists, told MPs on a Commons committee studying the four-week-old medical isotope shortage. "First of all, they denied there was a crisis. Now it's described as sexy. How sad. How sad to be a Canadian."

The president of the Canadian Nuclear Medicine Association warned MPs that he and other doctors were being forced to treat Canadian patients with 20-year-old technologies because of the isotope crisis.

"The announcement last month of the prolonged shutdown of the NRU reactor is a real catastrophe for the two million nuclear medicine patients in Canada but also for the credibility of the Canadian nuclear technology industry," CNMA president Dr. Jean-Luc Urbain said. "The chronic and acute shortage of medical isotopes is neither a funny nor sexy story. It is a real drama that we have to live with our patients on a daily basis. If those statements were made, I think they are irresponsible."

No love lost between Urbain and Raitt: "Raitt had earlier criticized Urbain for calling the reactor shutdown a crisis, calling his rhetoric "ridiculous" in a television interview." Good to know the Minister and the head of the Canadian nuclear medicine association are working so well together. He's absolutely right about the crisis label, of course. See next quote.

From CBC:

"There is a marked reduction in availability of medical isotopes this Thursday and Friday, where the shipments that we were hoping would be coming in from South Africa and the Netherlands will not be arriving," said Dr. Christopher O'Brien, head of the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine.

"For some of our smaller hospitals, there will be absolutely no medical isotope availability Thursday and Friday of this week."

From Le Devoir:
The experts suggested yesterday that the shortage is too important to be filled by other countries producing isotopes. They all denounced the "lack of leadership of Canada" in this case. "There is a lack of coordination with other countries, says Jean-Luc Urbain. We lost a lot of credibility on the international stage. "

The associations of Nuclear Medicine of Canada and Quebec say they no longer trust the Minister Raitt to settle the matter and asked that a committee of experts be formed to find a solution to the shortage and to find paths longer term. "We did not trust the Canadian people and no longer," said Lamoureux, who ... described as "disastrous" management of this crisis by the Minister on the waves of the broadcast Dutrizac at 98.5 FM. [Note: that translation of the first part of that last sentence is bad, it should read that we and the Canadian people no longer have trust...]
Meanwhile, Minister Raitt plods on, speaking of Canadian leadership internationally, contrary to the views of these leading officials. And Minister Aglukkaq plays up the many alternatives to medical isotopes. You mean these dwindling alternatives, Minister?

The experts speak, hope Canadians are listening...

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.