Nfld. & Labrador

More radiation services needed in Corner Brook, St. John's: report

Two more radiation machines are needed to deal with a growing demand for cancer treatment, says a report that also recommends putting one of them in a hospital that does not yet exist.
Four radiation units are currently used to treat cancer patients in Newfoundland and Labrador, although all of them are in St. John's. (Canadian Press)

Two more radiation machines are needed to deal with a growing demand for cancer treatment in Newfoundland and Labrador, says an external consultant's report that also recommends putting one of those units in a hospital that does not yet exist.

All four of the existing radiology units in the province are located at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John's.

A report by Alberta-based Altus Planning Inc. found that the centre, which is managed by Eastern Health needs two more radiation rooms to be built over the next dozen years as Newfoundland and Labrador's population grows older.

The report also backs the provincial government's plan to put radiation services in the new hospital in Corner Brook, which has been in the planning stages for years.

The governing Tories released contracts last summer to put the long-delayed project back on track.

The Altus report recommends setting aside two radiation vaults for the new hospital, with one machine to be operational by 2019, when the new institution is expected to be completed. It will replace the aging Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook.

The report also recommends the possibility of adding a second machine in Corner Brook should future circumstances warrant.

The report flags the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador is "sparsely populated" yet has a large land mass, posing challenges for access to care for cancer patients.

"This is especially problematic for technologically complex and costly services such as [radiation therapy], which are needed by a patient population that is relatively frail and proportionally older," the report found.

To help improve the delivery of services to rural cancer patients, the Corner Brook radiation team is expected to take on greater responsibility when the hospital opens.

"[It] will gradually evolve over three to five years post opening from being heavily reliant on the tertiary cancer centre in St. John's to becoming substantially more self-reliant with more local expertise," the report said.

In a statement, Health Minister Steve Kent said the government will start work on implementing the report — although he raised the issue of the cost of doing so.

"We will now begin looking at future budgets and planning cycles to determine what is feasible and necessary to augment our current capabilities, and under what timelines," Kent said.

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