Health minister says review will assess merits and feasibility of providing cancer radiation services in Yarmouth

Published on September 1, 2017

Yarmouth residents Derek Lesser and Sandy Dennis carry a petition containing more than 13,350 signatures into an Aug. 31 meeting with Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. The grassroots group Western Nova Scotia Cancer Support Network is pushing for cancer radiation services to be available at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital to serve western Nova Scotia.

© Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH, N.S. – The province’s health minister says a review will commence this fall on whether cancer radiation services could, or should, be located at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital to serve western Nova Scotia. 

But even if it is determined this is the direction to head in, it would still be years away.

Randy Delorey said Dr. Drew Bethune and Cancer Care Nova Scotia will conduct the review. Issues to be explored include patient numbers, geographical coverage area (it is being suggested the catchment could be Annapolis around to Liverpool), the service-delivery structure, costs, staffing, etc.

Delorey agreed if decisions on health issues like this were based solely on emotion, this one would be a slam-dunk. But there are other important and necessary considerations and factors to explore.

“This would be a large capital requirement, so the costing and the budgeting would all come into play and that’s just the financial side. Then there’s the clinical side and the staffing side,” the minister said during an Aug. 31 Yarmouth visit.

There’s a lot of work that has to be done to develop something like this. But again, you’ve got to start somewhere and the start is to review and assess, first and foremost, the viability and the appropriateness of the request.

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done to develop something like this,” Delorey said. “But again, you’ve got to start somewhere and the start is to review and assess, first and foremost, the viability and the appropriateness of the request.”

There are currently eight linear accelerators, the machines used for cancer radiation services, in the province. Six are located in Halifax and two are in Cape Breton.

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey
Nova Scotia government

In Yarmouth, Delorey met with representatives of the Facebook grassroots group Western Nova Scotia Cancer Support Network and also members of the Yarmouth Hospital Foundation. Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill, who helped facilitate the meeting, was present. Representing the support network group were Derek Lesser and Sandy Dennis. “I very well understood as to why they’re advocating for the community members and they did a very good job of articulating the impacts of the travel time to receive cancer radiation services in Halifax,” Delorey said.

Yarmouth Regional Hospital.

Lesser described the meeting as very positive. He said the health minister was very receptive to the information they were providing.

“You could tell he was very sincere,” Lesser said. “When the review is done, they’re going to have a list of recommendations that will come back that they will choose to act on or not. He described the process, but the fact that we’re at this point is very good.”

Still, Lesser cautioned that people need to keep their expectations in check.

“I think some people think this kind of thing happens overnight. I asked realistically if things were to go ahead and everything was getting approved, what’s the shortest timeline, and they said we’re years away from anything. It certainly takes time,” he said.

“I could see how much both of them wanted to see this done,” Lesser said about Delorey and Churchill. “But I could also see that they want to make sure they have the data to make sure it’s the right thing to do because you’re taking taxpayers money and spending it. You can’t just do it on a wish.”

The Western Nova Scotia Cancer Support Network had circulated a petition throughout Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties. At the meeting, Delorey was shown the petition had garnered 13,356 signatures and there were still petition sheets to be collected. Churchill will table the petition in the Nova Scotia Legislature during the fall sitting.

Delorey was also given a compilation of stories that people have shared outlining the financial, emotional and physical impacts of travelling to Halifax to access radiation services. These are often prolonged trips that cause people to be away from their family, friends and support networks for weeks at a time.

While people have shared their stories to help others understand the personal impacts, they are also sharing these stories in the hopes that in the future others won’t have to go through the same ordeals.

Delorey said he was struck by how people in the community are advocating not for themselves, but for others.

One of these people is Sandy Dennis, a Yarmouth town councillor who has been battling lung cancer and had to spend weeks in Halifax for radiation treatment.

“I’ve already done my 30 radiation. I’ve already done my six chemo. What I’m advocating for are our families, our friends, our children, our grandchildren,” she said. “It’s not about me. It’s about what we can get done for this community and for the people after me.”

Dennis said she was happy with the meeting and was pleased the minister came to Yarmouth to find out more about this issue.

 “I just feel that it’s moving in the right direction and all of the key players are working together, the oncologists, Cancer Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Healthy Authority, the government, the hospital foundation,” Dennis said. “I guess all we can do is hope and pray that after the review that the file continues to move forward.”