The Kitimat General Hospital Chemotherapy Clinic will be closed for the next nine to twelve months due to staff shortages and a proposed restructuring of cancer care across the northwest, Northern Health tells Northwest Coast Energy News.
Contrary to local rumour that the complete oncology clinic had closed, other aspects of the cancer clinic will continue to operate, according to Dr. Jaco Fourie, the Terrace-based medical lead for Northern Health oncology. Other cancer care procedures including blood work and other tests and local care by trained general partictioners will continue in Kitimat for the next year.
Dr. Fourie said that the chemotherapy clinic at Kitimat General actually closed about three months ago when the oncology nurse left due to health reasons. Kitimat patients are generally treated in Terrace or Prince George and sometimes in Prince Rupert or Smithers. Sources in Kitimat’s medical community says that in the spring a nurse would drive to Kitimat from Terrace for some chemotherapy procedures but that nurse is now not available.
Dr. Fourie said that staff shortages are a chronic problem in cancer care across Northwestern BC. Last week chemo procedures in Terrace had to be postponed or transferred due to a staffing problem at Mills Memorial Hospital.
Two sources on District of Kitimat Council confirmed to Northwest Coast Energy News that council has been discussing the problem of the chemotherapy clinic privately for the last couple of weeks and have requested a meeting with Northern Health in early September.
In the Northwest, the problem is that with just one oncology nurse in many locations qualified to administer chemotherapy, there is no back up in case that nurse is not available. As well, to maintain qualifications the nurses have to administer a minimum number of procedures and in some cases re-qualify as procedures are changed and updated.
The work pressure due to staff shortages is also intense across the northwest and many staff leave the northwest due to burn out, Dr. Fourie said.
Northern Health is now working on a new system where there would be at least three nurses in each location, one full time, one part time and one casual who could be on call. Some of those nurses would likely also have to work in other fields of medicine.
District of Kitimat and local medical sources say that the call for two nurses to be available is part of a province wide plan to upgrade cancer care and bring the northwest practices closer to the system used in the Lower Mainland and across Canada.
Dr. Fourie said that Northern Health is studying the cancer care situation in the northwest and will issue a report in the coming months.
At least one Kitimat medical source questioned the need for two nurses, especially given the problem of attracting staff to the region, noting that using one nurse has worked well for years (when staff was available). The source added that one oncology nurse in Kitimat would be better than none if the province insisted on having two or none at all.
The source also questioned the safety of sending chemotherapy patients to Terrace, especially during the winter months, given that for those without access to drivers, public transportation is not always an option to get to appointments in Terrace and back to Kitimat.
Dr. Fourie noted that Northern Health is concerned about the situation in Kitimat with a possible growing population if industrial development goes ahead and is looking at expansion of services in the District to meet those growing needs.