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Friday, February 5, 2010

IN THE NEWS: Newfoundland premier in US for surgery

Danny Williams in US for heart surgery
Danny Williams, the multimillionaire Newfoundland and Labrador premier, has gone to the United States to have heart surgery. According to his staff, the operation he needs is not available in Newfoundland. What is that operation, however, and is it available elsewhere in Canada? Those are questions the premier's office has yet to answer. [Canadian Press]

Mr Williams's decision to head south for healthcare, like former MP Belinda Stronach's before him, has ignited controversy on both sides of the border about the pros and cons of the Canadian and American health systems.

In an editorial, the Montreal Gazette complained that private care should not only be available to the wealthy and lamented the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada's 2005 Chaoulli decision, which overturned elements of Quebec's ban on private health insurance, has not opened up a private-care market in the province. "Two tiers are acceptable to our elites, apparently, provided there's no third-tier option in between, for ordinary people." [Montreal Gazette]

The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, dug up a few surgeons -- including Conservative Senator Wilbert Keon, a famous heart surgeon -- to testify that it's unlikely Mr Williams (pictured above, with his pal Arnold Schwarzenegger) really couldn't have had some operation performed in Canada. Dr Keon said there was "no question" Mr Williams could have received treatment in Canada. "He's going to have to admit that when he recovers and has to face you guys [journalists]." Dr Keon also speculated that Mr Williams simply wanted the luxurious rooms and amenities offered at private American clinics. [Globe and Mail]

On the other hand, nobody knows what the operation is still.

That hasn't stopped people like Dr Keon and throngs of free-market political activists in the United States from jumping to conclusions. "[W]ith his own health on the line, he prefers to put his trust in the "second-rate, profit-driven health-care behemoth" south of the St. Lawrence, rather than try a hospital in Canada," crowed one editorial entitled "Oh (no) Canada." [New York Post]

QC docs denied pay for volunteer work
A group of Quebec orthopedic surgeons volunteering in Haiti learned that their request to be paid government salaries while they're working overseas has been turned down. Health Minister Dr Yves Bolduc said he was worried that paying them would set a precedent that the government was not prepared to commit to. [CBC News] [Montreal Gazette]

New U of T med school campus to open
A new campus of the University of Toronto's medical faculty, called the Mississauga Academy of Medicine, is set to open next year. The first class will include 54 students. [Government of Ontario news release]

Autism/vaccine doctor labeled "unethical"
Dr Andrew Wakefield, the British researcher who conceived of the theory linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, was censured for unethical and unprofessional research practices by the UK's General Medical Council. [General Medical Council report (PDF)]

Shortly after, The Lancet issued a full retraction of the paper Dr Wakefield published in 1998, "Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children," which set off the anti-vaccine movement that still persists the autism community and beyond. [The Lancet (subscription required)]

Chronic diseases on the rise
In a new report, the Ontario Medical Association said that the number of patients with diabetes in the province increased by more than 50% between 1995 and 2005, and the prevalence of hypertension rose by nearly 100%. The numbers prompted OMA President Dr Suzanne Strasberg to scold Ontarians: "Ontario's doctors will continue to diagnose, treat and manage chronic disease however; patients also have a responsibility to help themselves by making small and simple choices that can have a significant impact on their health." [OMA news release]

Shingles vaccine recommended for Canadians older than 60
Canadians 60 or older should be given Zostavax, a recently approved shingles vaccine, recommended the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The committee noted that it's unclear whether patients who have already had shingles can benefit from the vaccine. Also unclear is whether the vaccine will confer protection for more than just a few years. "The efficacy of protection has not been assessed beyond 4 years and it is not known whether booster doses of vaccine are beneficial." [NACI statement]

The Canadian Pain Society urged federal and provincial governments to cover the costs of vaccination for all Canadians over 60. [CPS news release]

MORE NEWS FROM ACROSS CANADA AND BEYOND
Bar codes could help reduce drug dispensing errors, patient safety advocates insisted. [Canadian Patient Safety Institute news release]

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Suzuki Foundation joined forces to launch a new blog called Docs Talk. The blog will feature articles written by Canadian doctors about the connections between the environment and human health. The first entry was written by Dr Warren Bell. "It has long been a cherished belief of the doctor that administering medicine to his or her patient is an unmitigated good. We now know that this is a simplistic point of view. Many pharmaceuticals — especially newly synthesized ones — wreak havoc on animals and plants exposed to them after they leave the human body. It is painful for me and my colleagues to learn that our efforts to do good can sometimes do very bad things." [Docs Talk]

In many hospitals, women in labour are given only water to drink and ice chips to eat -- no matter how long the labour lasts. A new study published by an international team of researchers, including one Canadian, in the Cochrane Library has determined that the evidence doesn't show any benefit from withholding food and drinks like juice. [Cochrane Library] [Canadian Press]

Serotonin deficiency may be behind sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), new research found. [Journal of the American Medical Association abstract] [Toronto Star]

It appears to be more effective to use nicotine patches longer than they're usually indicated for, according to a new study. Six months of use improved the quit rate compared to the standard two months of therapy by a whopping 64%. [Annals of Internal Medicine abstract] [Reuters]

Photo: Office of the Premier, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  21. “It's hard to comment on something that's a personal health issue,” said Robert Bell, chief executive officer of University Health Network, one of Canada's largest groups of hospitals.

    However, he added, there could be good reason for Mr. Williams to have the operation in the United States if he has a complex heart condition that requires special expertise.

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    Williams said he had "the utmost confidence" in his own province's health care system, his decision was to go to Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami to undergo "a very specialized piece of surgery [by] somebody who's doing this three or four times a day, five, six days a week."
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