Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ottawa bungled isotope crisis: Canadian Medical Association head

Listen to the doctors. Apologies for extended excerpts here but they are compelling. And more below as opinion from around the world starts to roll in:
Canada's Conservative government has mishandled the medical isotopes crisis, the Canadian Medical Association's outgoing president charged Wednesday.

"The federal government didn't play the role it should have played there," Dr. Robert Ouellet said after the association passed numerous motions prodding the government to dive back into the isotope business.

The association called on the federal government to retain a leading role in providing medical isotopes for the world, and reconsider a decision to back away from isotope production.

Delegates at the association's annual meeting in Saskatoon passed five motions they said they hope will help turn around a shortage of medical radioisotopes for diagnostic tests.

The anger and worry about the government's handling of the nuclear reactor shutdown in Chalk River, Ont., and subsequently cancelled medical tests was palpable from doctors who spoke at the meeting.

"There was a warning a year-end-a-half ago when the Chalk River reactor went wrong. They didn't provide any views on what will come in the future. And this reactor is 53 years old," Ouellet said.

The government's decisions on reactors have been made "for financial reasons," Ouellet said, adding it did not fully consider the effects on patient care.

"The federal government must be made accountable for this," Ouellet told delegates earlier in French. "They lacked foresight, and of course right now there's a shortage, and there will be additional costs for everyone."
Dr. Yolande Leduc told delegates she can't understand why the government is backing away from isotope production.

"I'm also concerned Canada will be abandoning patients around the world," the Quebec doctor said in French.

"I'm standing up to tell the federal government they don't make sense."(emphasis added)
We've now seen the medical community galvanized, we have the opposition holding an emergency hearing on the isotope crisis in Ottawa on Friday, we have countless experts (in addition to the CMA today) calling for the government to get on with reassessing the Maples reactors, provinces requesting funding for skyrocketing isotope costs...what is it going to take to get this government to actually do something? How about international embarrassment? Throw that into the hopper today:
A poor decision made years ago based on the assumption that our neighbors would have our backs has returned to haunt us.

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Energy scrubbed a project to produce nuclear medicines using a small reactor at Sandia National Laboratories after spending $30 million researching it in the 1990s. At the time, two new nuclear reactors were expected to come on line in Canada. They didn't. Now, the shutdown of two aging Canadian nuclear reactors has led to a shortage of certain medical isotopes for the United States.


Nuclear medicine is an essential component of health care for our citizens and protecting the medical infrastructure is exactly the kind of federal involvement everyone should agree is appropriate for the government to pursue.
Well, it used to be a good assumption that Canada was a good neighbour to the world...

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