Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for October 9, 2012

Local chemotherapy treatments in limbo

Whitehorse General Hospital may have to stop providing chemotherapy treatments for cancer because of a staffing issue, says hospital spokeswoman Val Pike.

By Chuck Tobin on October 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm


Photo by Whitehorse Star

Dr. Rao Tadepalli and Val Pike

Whitehorse General Hospital may have to stop providing chemotherapy treatments for cancer because of a staffing issue, says hospital spokeswoman Val Pike.

Pike said in an interview this morning the coming Friday will be the last day for the chemo nurse.

Unless a permanent or temporary replacement can be found, the service may not be available at Whitehorse General next week.

There are approximately 20 chemo patients currently receiving treatment at the hospital, she said.

The hospital, said Pike, is looking at all its options.

Those include seeking the assistance of B.C. in finding a temporary chemo nurse until a more permanent arrangement can be made.

Pike said there is a shortage of chemotherapy nurses right across Canada, and every jurisdiction is facing the same issue with recruitment.

“It is not budgetary,” she said. “It is situated in the fact there is big shortage of chemo nurses in Canada and we are part of that due to unforeseen circumstances in staffing.”

Pike said another of the options being looked at is asking the existing nurse to stay on longer, though she was temporary to begin with and was only here to cover the summer months.

If an arrangement cannot be found, she acknowledged, chemo patients may have to go south for their treatment.

Pike explained justifying the position of a chemotherapy nurse has been a challenge because of the large fluctuations in the number of patients and the number of treatments required.

Some patients, she explained, require treatment weekly. Others may require it once a month, depending on what the patient’s oncologist has prescribed.

“It’s an ongoing challenge for us to maintain a nurse in that role when the numbers are up and down, and all over the place,” she said.

Pike reiterated, however, the situation facing the hospital today is not a financial one.

Having the treatment available locally is so much better than having to travel because patients can return home after the intravenous is administered, and there are usually family and friends around for support, she said.

Dr. Rao Tadepalli, the president of the Yukon Medical Association, said this morning he accepts that when only one or two health professionals provide a specific service, the service is susceptible to these types of staffing issues.

And the Yukon does have a small population, he pointed out, suggesting it’s difficult to justify having more than one chemo nurse.

Perhaps the hospital could look at training an existing member of staff to fill the position, he suggested, though that would take time.

Chemo nurses, he agreed, are in short supply across Canada.

Tadepalli said if chemotherapy becomes unavailable in Whitehorse, it’s going to have an impact, and perhaps a more serious impact for some.

Depending on the treatment regime prescribed by the oncologist, treatment for some of the 20 patients might be able to be delayed for a couple of weeks without a significant impact, he said.

It’s likely, he added, that some patients will require an uninterrupted treatment schedule.

Tadepalli said patients may be able to travel south and have their chemo treatments administered in B.C.

That, however, may be an issue for others who are too weak to travel or who may need an escort but don’t have one.

There are programs to provide treatment and lodging for the most serious cases who need to travel but arrangements like that take time to make, he said.

“Some patients may not be able to travel,” Tadepalli said. “It’s unfortunate that means they may not get treatment.”

The president of the medical association said doctors were notified last Friday of the situation facing the hospital and the ongoing provision of chemotherapy.

Tadepalli said a week to make alternate arrangements is not a lot of time.

He is not blaming anyone for the situation, as he recognizes the Yukon does not have the numbers to dictate a lot of staff in its chemotherapy unit.

Trying to assign blame won’t get anybody anywhere, he pointed out.

It would be a waste of time – time better spent finding alternate arrangements and a more permanent solution, whether it’s an increase in financial incentive or what have you, he said.

CommentsAdd a comment

Dennis Schneider

Oct 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I completed my chemo program last week.  From my observations, may I make a suggestion. The present relief chemo nurse seems to like the Yukon but she has a husband in BC who is also a nurse.
Why not offer him a full time permanent position, allow her to be permanent and I’ll venture a guess this staffing problem will be solved.  The Union no doubt will whine & belly ache but this is a critical situation.


Maureen N

Oct 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm

This is ridiculous.  The Chemo nurse will not cost the healthcare system as much as shipping each of us down south for treatment. And if it is for just one day a week this will be a financial burden on the patients because there is no funding for short term stays in hotels.

If there are no patients scheduled for Chemo the nurse can work in other areas.

As for only having a week to make alternate arrangements - that too is ridiculous.  The Chemo room has been understaffed this summer and even closed.  This is not a new problem.  I have had to have treatment in the surgical day care unit.

Jackie Ward

Oct 11, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Funny this situation might prolong people’s life’s. I know for a fact everyone I know that had chemo usually died a lot sooner than the person who chose to try and fight it with nutrition. Yes, sometimes the cancer is too long progressed, but still. Can a doctor answer my question on how destroying someone’s immune system with radiation is helping them fight the disease? One would think they would do everything in their power to strengthen their immune system, not destroy it. What about H202 therapy? Why doesn’t WGH offer it? Is it because H202 can’t be given a patient?


Oct 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm

To Dennis and Maureen.  I only wish you well and hoping you beat this dreadful disease. I too hope we can continue to provide chemo to Yukon patients.  At least our family can feel comfort in having someone with them.  It is impossible for that to happen should we be sent out for treatment. NIB will not be so empathetic at all.  I totally feel for those having to go thru chemo.  Believe me I had and have families having to deal with this.

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