A little good news from parliament

Parliament saw welcome moments of agreement this week which amounts to good news for Canadians as we passed a New Democrat motion on a pan-Canadian palliative and end-of-life care strategy and got down to work on a government bill for drug safety.    The motion should jump-start the government to put meat on the bones of the strategy which addresses a noticeable gap in health care services (despite increasing demand).  The government bill is intended to help patients and physicians more clearly assess risks related to prescription drugs.

Canadians deserve movement on the palliative care front.  With a sound strategy and good programs we can keep as many patients out of emergency rooms and hospital beds as possible.  By developing and coordinating home care options with strong supports we can substantially reduce the end of life health care costs while empowering patients and their loved ones.  The ability of a patient to maintain as much dignity as possible and allowing their loved ones to support them in a meaningful way is reason enough to develop better palliative supports.  It shows that we are indeed a compassionate society.   That money can be saved at the same time is a bonus.

The drug safety bill is a piece of legislation that makes so much sense you have to wonder why it took this long to be drafted.  It is in large part because of Conservative MP Terrence Young who became an activist on the issue after he lost his young and healthy daughter to a prescription drug that was prescribed in a way that it was never approved for.   At the heart of the bill is a regulatory change that does away with overly complicated drug labelling and ensures that plain, easily understood language is the new normal.  It is meant to help doctors and patients make better decisions.

I spoke on the bill this week and used the opportunity to argue that the legislation could be even stronger with the inclusion of a few amendments.   Among those would be language that forces Health Canada to inform Canadians about drug recalls as soon as they learn of them – surprisingly, this isn’t always the case; measures to ensure the Minister of Health will make decisions on drugs without consulting the company involved first; and making sure the results of clinical trials are made available to the public and research communities.

Ultimately we have to ensure that big pharmaceutical companies do not have the government in their pocket.   Decisions relating to drugs should be based on evidence and the well-being of the public must be the primary and overarching consideration.   The bill we are debating goes part of the way down that road.  When it is sent to committee and amendments are proposed, it is hoped the government will weigh proposals from the opposition on merit instead of rejecting them outright.

Both of these items should have a big impact for Canadians. New Democrats are proud to contribute to ensuring a strong federal role in public health care that improves palliative and end of life care for Canadians.  Similarly, we are pleased to work with the government on a bill to make certain drug safety is the rule and not the exception for patients and doctors.