Friday, August 07, 2009

Summer of silence from Harper government on the isotope shortage

The Harper government continues its missing-in-action routine while the country deals with the fallout from the Chalk River shutdown. In Quebec, test delays continue to pile up and they are seriously affecting patients now: "Isotope shortage delaying Quebec cancer tests for 'weeks'."
As Canada’s medical isotope shortage enters its fourth month, Quebec cancer patients in need of urgent diagnoses are waiting weeks for an exam, the province’s nuclear-medicine technologists warned Thursday.

Cancer cases are prioritized but even those cases judged urgent have to wait for several weeks before exams are done,” said Dominique Verreault, president of the Alliance du personnel professionel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux.

Technologists are working overtime on weeknights and weekends to reduce the backlog, but the shortage of isotopes means they are always catching up, Verreault explained.
Note that there is an error in that Gazette report, it reads that "Chalk River is to reopen at the end of the month," when it should read at the end of the year. (See July 8 entry, here.)

Quebec health practitioners are joining in the call with Ontario for compensation from Ottawa for the increased cost burden the shortage is putting on hospitals. The costs include greater expense for the increasingly rare isotopes and staff overtime due to the extended hours that are needed to work on call, when isotopes do arrive.

Additionally, on Thursday, a Quebec organization representing nuclear medicine technologists reminded us that the government appointed group of experts that is to come up with long term solutions for isotope production is not expected to report until the end of the year (translated version of previous link):
The APTS also hoped that the committee of experts mandated by the federal government to find alternatives to medical isotopes provide its recommendations as soon as possible.

The conclusions of the committee are now expected at the end of the year. "Until then, what do we do?" Has outraged the president of the organization.

Ottawa will subsequently turn to make decisions quickly because time is pressing, she argues. "It's all very well the recommendations of a committee of experts, but if the federal government has no political will to resolve the problem and find solutions, we are not advanced."
The intense frustration in the medical community is evident. And their skepticism is well-grounded. Mr. Harper has already pronounced that we're getting out of the business of isotope production in the long run. Despite Canada's leading the world in medical isotope production until this shutdown, he's stated we're getting out. There's still not enough attention that's been paid to that statement, by the way. What kind of Prime Minister is this who unilaterally decides to shut down a business like this where we've been a world leader?

The slumbering pace of this government on this file continues to baffle. We don't see a response to calls for compensation from the provinces. There is little to no public face of the government on this file out of a concern for the political damage they could suffer. No substantive statement for a month on the issue from the government. And yes, they're waiting until the end of this year for a committee of experts to weigh in, a long overdue exercise that is months and months late and may end up being window dressing in any event given the Prime Minister's public pronouncements.

Where are they?

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