© Star photo by Diane Crocker
Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan talks about plans for Corner Brook's new hospital.
By Diane Crocker and Gary Kean
Star Staff Writers
CORNER BROOK Susan Sullivan is not saying no to a radiation unit at the new hospital planned for Corner Brook, she’s just saying not right now.
“What we’ve said around radiation from the get-go is should we look at our resources over the next few years and the demand is there, you know we’re able to provide service, meaning we can recruit and retain the many specialists who are needed, then we would then look at that,” said Sullivan, the minister of Health and Community Services, during an interview with The Western Star following the official opening of the restorative care unit at the Long Term Care Home in Corner Brook on Wednesday afternoon.
Sullivan said she recognizes the biggest issue for cancer patients here on the west coast is having to travel to St. John’s for radiation treatment.
“And I absolutely understand it. I understand how difficult the travel is and I understand the pressures and the challenges that creates for people. But in order to provide a service we have to make sure that it’s the safest and it provides the best quality care that we can give them.”
At this time the Health minister said the numbers just don’t support putting a radiation unit in the new hospital.
Information obtained from Eastern Health shows that in 2012 172 newly diagnosed people from the region serviced by Western Health underwent radiation at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. Another 270 were from Central Health, 59 from Labrador-Grenfell Health and 714 from Eastern Health.
Of the total number of patients to receive treatment in 2012, taking in some previously diagnosed patients who had at least one treatment in that year, 204 were from Western, 302 from Central, 67 from Labrador-Grenfell and 917 from Eastern.
Combining the numbers from Western, Central and Labrador, proponents of locating a unit here argue it could service those people.
However, Sullivan disagrees.
“We don’t have any numbers to show us that people from central Newfoundland would come here to the west coast.”
She said her department has looked at what happens in the current system in terms of people coming here for other services and the numbers are low. “So the numbers are just not showing us that people would make those kinds of decisions.”
In terms of the machinery, Sullivan said 400 patients are needed to make one machine feasible and viable. And, she said, two machines are needed to allow for downtime, planned or unscheduled, because once treatment starts it can’t be interrupted. Those two machines would have a capacity of 800, but Sullivan said the number here is only around 140.
That, she said, leads to another issue, and that’s finding someone to run the machines.
Sullivan said people won’t want to come and do the work part-time. “When they’re looking to practice, they want to practice in a manner that allows them to keep their skills honed as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Sullivan said the answer to if there will be a PET (positron emission tomography) scanner in the new hospital is “no.”
“The bottom line after crunching all of the numbers is that we know we would do about two to three scans a week and that in and of itself is not sustainable. We want to see maximum utilization.”
Again, she said the province has to look at the need and the demand and at the ability to be able to recruit and retain the medical professionals that would be needed.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t the first time Sullivan answered questions about a radiation unit and PET scanner during her visit to the city.
On Tuesday night she met with 60 to 70 representatives of area municipal councils and local services districts and on Wednesday morning did the same with six members of the Western Region Hospital Action Committee.
Israel Hann, the committee’s chairperson, said he and his fellow committee members were not at all happy with the answers the minister gave them during the more than two-hour meeting.
“It didn’t go the way we would have liked at all,” said Hann. “It was all ‘no’s’.
“She said no to a radiation unit and no to a PET scanner. She said it wasn’t about the money. It was about the population and finding the staff for these things.”
Hann said the committee could not accept the government’s stance on the hospital plans because all of those factors could change by the time the hospital opens and these services could be necessary.
He said the committee will continue to fight for a better hospital than what government is currently planning for. He said that includes talking to politicians and people considering to be politicians, in light of the upcoming Tory leadership race and subsequent general election that has to happen some time in the next year.
“I’ll talk to the devil himself if it means getting a better hospital,” vowed Hann.