Cancer Drug Supply

Minister Matthews' Letter to Patients

October 10, 2013

Our health care system has a responsibility to patients to ensure that they receive the proper dosage of any drug that they are prescribed.

That's why it was absolutely unacceptable when we discovered, last March, that 1202 patients received lower-than-prescribed doses of chemotherapy medication.

Immediately upon learning of the underdosing problem, my first priority was to ensure that our hospitals notified patients and their families and provided them with access to an oncologist to answer their questions and discuss their personal plan of care.

I am very sorry that patients and their families had to go through this at such a difficult time in their lives.

Like you, I wanted to know how this could have happened - so that we could prevent it from happening again. I struck a working group made up of the affected hospitals, the Ontario Hospital Association, Health Canada, the Ontario College of Pharmacists, and Cancer Care Ontario. I also appointed Dr. Jake Thiessen, a pharmacy expert, to conduct an independent review of Ontario's cancer drug supply chain.

We took swift action. Our government introduced new regulations that direct hospitals to purchase only from regulated or approved entities. We also worked with the Ontario College of Pharmacists to expand its mandate to inspect non-pharmacy drug preparation premises where pharmacists and pharmacy technicians engage in drug preparation activities, like the facility where the chemotherapy drugs in question were mixed.

In addition, Health Canada released a policy statement providing direction to drug preparation facilities indicating that they can operate under either the federal Food and Drugs Act, the supervision of a provincially licensed pharmacist, or in a hospital.

On August 7, I was pleased to release Dr. Thiessen's report where he has provided some details as to the possible impact the under-dosing may have had on patients. I encourage you to continue to speak to your oncologist to address any continuing concerns you may have with respect to this issue.

Dr. Thiessen's report explains in detail how the underdosing incident occurred, and contains helpful recommendations to strengthen our hospital drug supply system. You can read a summary of his report and the full report.

Our government accepts all of Dr. Thiessen's recommendations and has taken steps to implement Dr. Thiessen's recommendations. In particular, on October 10th I introduced legislation that would, if passed, allow the Ontario College of Pharmacists to license hospital pharmacies.

We have an excellent cancer system, rivalling the best in the world. I am confident that, working together, we can make it even better for patients.

Deb Matthews
Minister of Health and Long-term Care


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