Province to improve baby screening, health minister pledges amid criticism

“TORONTO (CP) – More funds to catch rare but preventable newborn diseases are on the way, Health Minister George Smitherman promised Friday as Ontario’s ombudsman insisted Canada remains like a Third World country on the issue.
Smitherman admitted that soon-to-be-announced money for genetic screening won’t be enough to allow hospitals to test for everything. “The challenge of being Minister of Health is not to look at one thing in isolation but rather to recognize the comprehensive nature of the health-care system,” Smitherman said as he announced money for two health-care facilities in Toronto.
“There are a broad range of priorities which compete for available resources.”
He dismissed criticism from the province’s ombudsman, Andre Marin, that Ontario ranks “like a Third World country” because it doesn’t do enough genetic testing of newborns.
“I hope people don’t lose sight in the rush to judgment. . .of how much extraordinary care were are providing (to people in Ontario) including for newborn babies,” he said.
But he acknowledged the need for a better screening program, saying it was an area where the provincial government “can do better and we will.”
He said there would be “a reasonably modest” announcement soon on funding for newborn screening.
Marin praised Smitherman for showing a willingness to solve the screening problem.
“If the minister wants to be proactive that’s commendable on his part,” he said.
“On my part I will continue with my work.”
He has launched an investigation into baby deaths he said that may have been prevented if more diseases were caught during screening.
Marin refused to back down from a statement he made Thursday comparing Ontario and Canada to the Third World regarding screening programs.
“The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health released a report this spring saying that (Canada is) behind every country in the developed world, even places like Costa Rica,” he said, adding he was just echoing what the journal wrote.
“I think it is tough medicine to swallow. . .but that is what the journal found.”
Currently, Ontario tests infants for just three conditions – fewer than any other province. Saskatchewan, by comparison, tests for 29.
As it stands, the province only tests for hearing impairment and two disorders that can lead to mental retardation – phenylketonuria, a metabolic disorder, and congenital hypothyroidism, where there are hormonal fluctuations in the thyroid glands.