Province urged to rethink chemo workaround for Grand Falls, Saint-Quentin

The Liberal government is being urged to go back to the drawing board to save chemotherapy services at two small hospitals in northwest New Brunswick.

Plan to have nurses travel from Edmundston to provide service is called an 'affront' and 'inhumane'

Health Minister Benoît Bourque would not speak to reporters Tuesday after calls from a citizens committee to rethink how patients in Grand Falls and Saint-Quentin will get chemotherapy. (CBC)

The Liberal government is being urged to go back to the drawing board to save chemotherapy services at two small hospitals in northwest New Brunswick.

A citizens committee in Grand Falls says the Vitalité Health Network's proposed solution is unacceptable and "an affront" to staff at the hospital there.

The health authority's plan was to have nursing staff based in Edmundston travel to the hospitals in Grand Falls and St-Quentin to provide the service.

"This suggestion is not realistic but is an inhumane solution and is also an affront to the skills of the staff already in place at the Grand Falls General Hospital," Guildo Godbout, chair of the community health committee for the hospital, said in a written statement Tuesday.

"This attitude leads us to doubt the integrity and transparency of the Vitalité Network and its CEO."

The committee is calling on the health authority to put a moratorium on any changes to services and look at other ways to maintain the services.

Chemo services originally axed

Vitalité planned to centralize the Grand Falls and Saint-Quentin chemo services in Edmundston. The authority said there weren't enough procedures in the two smaller hospitals for nurses there to maintain their certifications.

But facing public pressure, CEO Gilles Lanteigne said he was open to other solutions.

Health Minister Benoît Bourque declared Oct. 31 that the government would "take action" if Vitalité did not, and Premier Brian Gallant said a day later that he "would not allow" the health authority to centralize the services.

The plan to have nurses from Edmundston travel to Grand Falls and Saint-Quentin was to cost $120,000, mainly to cover the hiring of one additional nurse. The government said last week it would accept that solution.

Minister won't comment

Bourque would not speak to reporters Tuesday about the committee's objections.

Godbout said Bourque met with the local committee and mentioned other possible solutions, so the group would like to see them.

He said using the existing Grand Falls nursing staff would save the $120,000 Vitalité planned to spend.

Progressive Conservative health critic Brian Macdonald said given the Liberal guarantees, it's now up to the government to find another solution.

"The Gallant government has taken responsibility," Macdonald said. "The minister and the premier have personally assured us they will deal with this situation in a way that meets the needs of the patients. ... Let's have a solution from this government that meets the needs of the patients."

The Liberals had "committed to the platinum standard here," Macdonald said. "I want to see them deliver it and we will hold their feet to the fire to make sure they do."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.