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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Budget 22

It will soon be time for the provincial government to lay a framework for its 2022 budget. Let’s hope the case made over the years for a PET scan at the new Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook is heard loud and clear. There has to be a sound commitment to move from talk to reality.

A PET scan for the new hospital in support of CT, MRI and other imaging technology to aid in saving countless lives, minimizing obstacles of cost in travel, accommodation and separation from loved ones by having to seek the use of a PET scan at St. John’s – the geographical end of North America – is overdue. Provincial Budget 2022 should realize that dream.

PET scan technology is a major tool in oncology imaging, playing a life-saving role in detection and treatment plans for cancer patients. However, PET scan imagery has multiple use in other medical treatments, including heart and neurological issues. A big advantage of a PET scan when combined with a CT scan is that a PET scan provides the structural details allowing for staging a cancer diagnosis and the early detection of a recurrence. The bottom line is a PET scan can locate invasive cancers, saving painstaking time, surgery and treatment options for not only preserving life, but adding to an individual’s overall quality of life.

Leading into the 2021 provincial winter/pandemic election, the current government openly reneged on a promise made by the provincial liberal party in 2014, stating there would be a PET scan in the new regional hospital in Corner Brook scheduled to open in 2023. Hon. Tom Marshall, Tory premier in 2014, did say space would be allocated in the new facility but never promised the actual diagnostic tool. The liberals did! Then something happened.

In 2021, Liberal Health Minister John Haggie went on record stating that while space in the new building will be set aside, people will have to wait. In the opinion of the Hon. Minister of Health the province doesn’t need two of them. The one in St. John’s would do (CBC News Jan 8/21).

Yet, in the same breath, fearing political backlash during the provincial election campaign, Premier Dr. Andrew Furey in a hastily arranged news conference at the construction site of the new hospital opened the door a crack in an attempt to calm the waters by placing $2 million in trust towards a PET scan at the new facility.

This was not a Corner Brook issue, although it is smack in the district of Liberal power broker cabinet minister Hon. Gerry Byrne. It is an issue of health care for the entire Bay of Islands; an issue along the west coast impacting Stephenville, St. Georges, Stephenville Crossing, Kippens and the entire Port au Port peninsula; an issue for the Highlands, St. Fintan’s, Heatherton, Jefferies and Robinsons; an issue for the Great Northern peninsula and coastal Labrador; an issue for the southwest corner from South Branch to LaPoile; an issue along the south coast from Burgeo to Francois; and an issue impacting Deer Lake and central NL. It is an issue for all in the region in need medical attention, but are faced with the daunting task of travel, accommodations and expense to seek assistance within a centralized model at one location, one size fits all service at the Health Science Complex in St. John’s. It is an issue of trust in decision making of those who have the power. The voices of these, and other communities, need to be heard.

While we all can appreciate it is expensive technology, what price do we put on individual health? The application of the PET technology in patient care saves lives by preventing unnecessary patient visits, sometimes dragged out over extensive time frames, over great distances, at personal and government expense, particularly if air ambulance has to be involved or unnecessary invasive procedures and possible surgeries. A PET scan combined with other diagnostic imagery can add years to someone’s life.

So it begs the question as to why Dr. Haggie in a news report stated a second PET scan was not needed because the current one in place is not overbooked. Is this because of a hesitancy in the medical community for referrals? Or is it because of the geographical distance and expense involved?

Any system whereby one has a months-long wait in some cases for referrals is evidence of a failed system. Sadly, for some waiting, as in the case of cancer, it may be too late. The tragic footnote to such cases becomes the talk at funerals.

“Opened and closed again. The cancer was everywhere.”

Why can’t the government commit to a larger sum than the $2 million currently in trust? Cost? Cost is certainly not a problem.

I noticed a recent news story about an agreement in place to reconstruct a old house on the east coast with a partnership agreement between locals, the province and the federal government. Yes, hats off to the local community acquiring a minimum shared cost in a $1.8 million tourism project to re-construct an old house. This is great.

However, the same level of co-operation can exist when a need is identified between hospital foundations, St. John’s and Ottawa for a proposed PET scan to fill the space left in a newly constructed facility. And do not be fooled when government uses cost as the main variable. An article by Eric M. Rohen, M.D., Ph.D., “PET Scanning: Worth the Cost in Cancer? Not only Worth the Cost, but Sometimes a Cost Cutter!” is a worthy read.

A recent CBC news story covered a dire need for medical intervention in Cape Breton, NS shows what can be done in a dire circumstance. People were dying of heart attacks at higher rates than anywhere in the province. Why? Was it a lack of health care funds to address the issue at the regional level? It appears this was the case.

Private investment was invited to step into a partnership, with local health authorities providing funding. The results have been phenomenal. This creative partnership can exist here with the province exploring private/public costing on a PET scan for the new west coast hospital.

Of course, if the will exists the province can partner with the federal government to target the acquisition of such a diagnostic tool similar to how a health authority in Saskatchewan partnered with the federal government to create a second cardiac care unit at University Hospital in Saskatoon. Once again, if the will exists, government does have the ability to deliver.

Funding begins at home. There are glowing examples of where government can do more for individuals seeking medical help and getting the best care possible by utilizing state of the art technology such as a PET scan. One fully recognizes our global role, but at times we need to retool. This is one of those times.

Canada currently boasts of a $7 billion plus budget for foreign aid. Focusing on one country dominating the news as of late provides evidence that there is money.

“Canada has spent $245 million on constitutional, judicial and security reforms in Ukraine since 2014. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said during her visit to Kyiv this week that Canada is “ready to make loans to Ukraine.” (CBC News 20/01/22)”

There was talk of an additional $120 million in aid by Ottawa; nothing more to it than that. That figure does not include costs related to the 200 Canadian soldiers currently stationed in the Ukraine to provide military training and technical assistance, along with a Canadian warship recently deployed to the region.

Funding? We will not even go there. There is ample funding at both levels of government when the will exists.

Let’s pray the 2022 Provincial Budget does have some good news for health care on this coast. The announcement of a PET Scan for the new hospital scheduled to be opened in 2023 would be a tremendous confidence shot for all waiting for critical diagnostic work while the clock on personal health ticks away.

Optimistically, it will reinforce public trust, that the province has finally kept its promise made back in 2014.

John Spencer Port aux Basques, NL

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