Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another coming isotope shortage

Consider this coming health crisis that will occur during prorogation. Doctors are ringing alarm bells this week over yet another crunch time in the medical isotope shortage. The principal problem will be a 70% reduction in world production that will be in effect from February 15th until the end of March. This is due to the shutdown of a Dutch reactor for repairs (30%) and the continued shutdown of Chalk River (40%). This means that during that time frame, everyone will be scrambling for the 30% that will be produced. Bad news for doctors and patients. This is perhaps why the doctors are speaking up at the moment, they're probably trying to maintain pressure on the Harper government and AECL to devote every effort to getting Chalk River back on line by the end of March, the promised return date.

Since December 2007, the first shutdown of Chalk River under the Conservatives, the Harper government has refused to consider two alternative solutions before them. The first is the completion of the MAPLES replacement reactors for Chalk River, which the government shut down in the spring of 2008 despite many experts who have opined that they could be put into operation. The second is the McMaster offer to ramp up its production, made in January of 2008 which would have been in effect by now and which could have supplied the entire Canadian market. Instead, the Harper government appointed a panel to study long term options. The panel recently filed a report. That's about all we've seen from this government.

Doctors are frustrated, patients aren't getting tests they need, hospital budgets are being overrun yet the Harper government continues to sit on its hands, doing little to nothing publicly to even speak to the issue. They're not even committing to help the provinces with the huge cost overruns that have been incurred as a result of the Chalk River failure, a federal responsibility. All of this comes with the backdrop of budgetary austerity that Jim Flaherty's laying the groundwork for during his extra-parliamentary budget consultations.

«Ce gouvernement a une obligation morale de révéler ce qu'il entend faire pour assurer ce service essentiel,» said the head of Quebec's nuclear medicine specialists. Call it a moral obligation or a health care obligation or a governing obligation, it just doesn't seem to be a priority of this government.

So while we're contemplating the affront of Parliament being shut down, we might also contemplate the government's omissions on this vital health care issue as well. The need for action on this file has been virtually prorogued by this government now for a few years.

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