The Canadian government has announced it will make it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to post public notices when drugs are not available.

Currently, posting notices to a website about drug shortages is voluntary. For months, doctors and patients have complained the approach is not working, and people are not able to get the medication they need.

For instance, the former head of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) discovered liquid penicillin was temporarily unavailable in one Edmonton hospital last fall.

"We called on pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily post all anticipated and actual drug shortages and discontinuances online as early as possible … but following extensive consultations with Canadians and health-care professionals, it became clear to me that Canadians were not getting this essential information in a timely and reliable manner from all pharmaceutical companies,"  Ambrose said in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Ambrose said that kind of behaviour "has to stop," and the government will now require companies to post all actual and anticipated shortages, which the public can access on a third-party website.

'Name and shame'

Ambrose said the government will "name and shame" the companies that don't report drug shortages.

"Also, as of today, Health Canada's website will now have a public register that lists pharmaceutical companies that have committed to voluntary public notification, and will include letters to companies that fail to live up to those expectations," she said.

Pills

Last fall, Canada's health minister noted that drug shortages are often global problems, and a public list of shortages won't necessarily remedy larger supply issues. (Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images)

In a statement, the head of the CMA said mandatory reporting is "a very welcome step."

“Physicians are gravely concerned with the impacts of drug shortages on their patients,” Dr. Chris Simpson said.

“Persistent shortages in the supply of drugs pose a serious disruption to clinical treatment, increase medical error and put unhelpful pressure on the entire health-care system.”

Shortly after the announcement, the NDP issued a statement saying the Conservatives defeated one of their private member's bills to bring in mandatory disclosure of drug shortages in February 2014.

The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association said in a statement that while reporting shortages is important, it will continue to work to address their root causes.

Ambrose did caution that the issues causing drug shortages are a global problem, and mandatory posting to a website won't fix that.

The full regulations, including fines for companies that do not comply, will be announced in the coming months. Ambrose said companies will be expected to continue posting information on the current website.