YARMOUTH, N.S. – Wednesday, June 13, is a big day when it comes to the review of cancer services in western Nova Scotia.
A day-long engagement session with 15 stakeholders, including three cancer patient advisers and cancer health professionals from Yarmouth and Halifax, is taking place in Yarmouth where all of the information that’s been gathered so far during this review will be presented and the discussion will help shape the recommendations to be contained in a final report that will go to the province.
“The deliberations, we feel, will carry a lot of weight,” Dr. Drew Bethune, the medical director of the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program said in an interview Tuesday evening. “This will be the end of the process. The deliberation will be about six hours and then there will be a report in the summer, which will be submitted to the minister of health and the Department of Health and Wellness and senior leadership of NSHA.
“There will be recommendations looking either at the status quo, putting in a radiation therapy machine here or a bundle of options that would help to relieve the problems that people have with travel,” Dr. Bethune said, as he and others prepared to go into the June 13 engagement session. “So the three options will be considered and if possible, at the end of the day, will land on one of those three options.”
The engagement session is being held in-camera and the outcome of the session won’t be made public prior to finalization of the report.
The review of cancer services got underway last fall. A major issue being looked at is the possibility, feasibility and sustainability of having radiation therapy available at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital by installing a linear accelerator here.
Proponents of installing the equipment say radiation therapy based in Yarmouth could serve a large swath of western Nova Scotia and diminish the need for cancer patients to always have to have treatment done in Halifax – often over an extended period – that brings with it an emotional, financial and physical toll on cancer patients.
Dr. Bethune said one thing that has happened during the review is the cost of installing a linear accelerator at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, and the operational cost, has been re-evaluated in light of new technologies.
“It's less than before. Before it was $39 million and now I think it’s around $20 million to build it and ongoing costs to operate it were $3.2 million before and I think it’s close to the same, surprisingly enough. Those are ballpark figures,” he said.
As part of this review, 943 Nova Scotians completed surveys and 24 people from Yarmouth participated in two focus groups.
“We were very pleased with the interest and thoughtful responses we received from the community,” said Dr. Bethune, adding this has helped to better understand of the human side of travelling to Halifax if you have cancer.
Initially there had been talk of this review wrapping up in the spring, but Dr. Bethune said this has been a long, complex review and they’ve wanted to ensure that it is a thorough and fair process.
“We've been pushing hard, we’ve been meeting very frequently, every week or two weeks, but there have been sub committees meeting at the same time,” he said. “As a province we don’t have unlimited resources and we have to look very carefully at how we spend this amount of money. There are many options in cancer care and we’re struggling to pay for them now. There are choices you make and we just want to make this choice as wisely as possible.”
Dr. Bethune talks about some of the other things that have happened during this review.
“We’ve looked at population trends and population that would potentially require radiation technology here. We've looked at options, if we didn’t build the machine here, what options there are and we’ve got a package of those options,” he said. “We've also looked at comparisons in the cancer program. For something around the same cost, what we could do in other parts of the program. We also have a new head of radiation oncology who joined us April 3 and we had a meeting to solicit his input also.”
Then there was compiling and analysing all of the survey information and doing the same with the information presented during focus groups.
All of this, and more, has taken time, said Dr. Bethune.
“We’ve been really pushing to get this done as quickly as possible, but we want to do it properly and it’s a balance,” he said. “We don’t want to wait forever to have everything perfect, but I’ve been really happy with my team (and) our public engagement process was very thorough.”
He personally was looking forward to further tapping into the wisdom of everyone who will be involved in Wednesday’s engagement session. He said everyone brings forth a unique and important perspective.
“I’m passionate about the process because I believe everybody has a lot to offer to the process and instead of having a bunch of experts telling you what you need, we’re engaging people in a meaningful way,” he said. “Our job is to do the report and give it to the minister and then the minister will decide, so we’re going to do as good and well-written report as possible.”
READ PREVIOUS STORIES ABOUT THIS ISSUE WRITTEN OVER THE PAST YEAR:
The review underway includes:
• A study of recent cancer statistics to determine the potential number of patients in southwestern Nova Scotia who would benefit from radiation therapy at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital.
• Reaching out to other provinces for information and expertise.
• Researching cost estimates to design and build physical space (bunker), and to purchase and maintain equipment should a decision be made to do so.
• Determining the size, makeup and budget for a clinical team needed to operate a radiation therapy service;
• Considering other cancer priorities and needs across the province and the trade-offs that would be necessary to add radiation therapy services in Yarmouth.