The federal Conservatives and NDP are calling on Health Minister Jane Philpott to look in on her department’s handling of Vanessa’s Law, one day after Global News reported allegations Health Canada is watering down the drug safety law – a move that could cost Canadian lives.
Almost three years ago, Parliament passed – without a single dissenting vote – a government bill to protect patients from potentially dangerous prescription drugs and save Canadians the agony one Conservative MP had suffered.
Vanessa’s Law was spearheaded by then-Conservative MP Terence Young and named after his daughter, who was 15 years old when she died of a heart attack in 2000 after taking a prescribed drug.
When the Governor General signed off on the bill in November 2014, Young says, he thought his battle was over.
Now, he says it’s not even close, as a handful of measures he says are critical to the bill’s efficacy have yet to be enacted.
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Specifically, Young says Health Canada is not going to require the reporting of all serious adverse drug reactions, a measure at the heart of the bill Parliament passed.
It appears instead as though the government is poised to regulate only acute-care hospitals – rather than including long-term care facilities and clinics, for example – and require them to report only “unexpected” adverse reactions to prescription drugs, rather than all.
Scaling back the requirement Parliament intended, Young said, means Health Canada won’t be in a position to better understand what prescription drugs are harming – and killing – Canadians.
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“I share Terence’s concern,” NDP health critic Don Davies said in a phone interview.
“The bill as drafted has real potential to save lives, but the direction the department seems to be taking will water down crucial elements of the bill.”
The direction Health Canada appears to be leaning, according to discussion papers they’ve published on the bill, doesn’t meet the letter and spirit of the law, Davies said.
Conservative health critic Colin Carrie also said the minister could take a closer look at what’s going on in her department.
“We hope the Liberals will remain true to Vanessa’s Law and ensure that absolutely all reactions from prescription drugs are reported as early as possible,” he wrote in a statement to Global News.
“Unfortunately, the proposal from Health Canada does not do that.”
David Lee, an official with Health Canada who had a hand in drafting the bill that became Vanessa’s Law, has said nothing proposed or suggested so far is final. The department is still in the consulting phase, and will hear out the comments and concerns brought to them.
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Bearing that in mind, Lee said the department must also take into consideration the burden any new regulations impose on the health-care system. Every minute a health-care practitioner spends bogged down in paperwork is time they can’t spend with patients, he said in a recent interview with Global News.
Davies dismissed that reasoning behind the apparent will to water down Vanessa’s Law.
“I’d rather see the bill implemented in its broadest sense and err of the side of saving lives,” he said.
“I’d rather risk administrative overload than lives.”
Philpott was not available for comment Friday, but her communications director pointed to a letter she sent Young in the spring, welcoming the opportunity to discuss the law’s implementation.