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‘Impact on patient care will be massive’:
Investment in new cancer centres in Halifax, Sydney will provide world-class care for generations to come

Carolyn Fifield

Carolyn Fifield says a new cancer centre in Halifax will have a “massive impact” on patient care

By Christine Smith

For some time now, cancer specialists and staff in Nova Scotia have been caring for patients in less-than-ideal spaces. However, thanks to significant investment in cancer care announced by government in the past year, planning for new cancer centres in Halifax and Sydney is underway.

Staff are optimistic about how new, modern spaces and equipment will enhance treatment and care for Nova Scotia cancer patients and families.

New cancer centre in Halifax

Carolyn Fifield can hardly contain her excitement when she thinks about the prospects of a new cancer centre in Halifax.

“First and foremost, the impact on patient care will be massive,” she said.

Fifield, manager of oncology clinical programs, said staff are looking forward to modern exam rooms, more clinic space, and increased capacity to see patients sooner with the necessary equipment close at hand to provide the best care possible.

Eric Newson, a registered nurse working in hematology and medical oncology, agrees.

“For patients with leukemia and lymphoma who are often in hospital for weeks at a time, the hospital is their home away from home,” said Newson. “A new cancer centre will provide a more comforting and calming space for patients and families and improve their quality of life.”

Currently, about 2,700 patients visit the Cancer Centre in Halifax each week for a variety of treatments, supportive care and follow-up in locations scattered throughout the Victoria General (VG) site at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Depending on the treatments they need, patients often have to be transported between the VG and Halifax Infirmary sites of the QEII. Having services in one location will result in improved safety and quality of care.

Wavey Gosse, a registered nurse, says a new cancer centre will be good for both patients and staff.

“For too long, we have struggled to provide the best care we can to cancer patients in a less than ideal environment,” she said. “A new cancer centre will allow us to provide better care and will give us room to grow.”

Among the features Fifield is most excited about is windows. “Working all day in a windowless environment is hard on staff,” she said. “Windows are important to our overall sense of wellbeing, and I’m sure this is multiplied 10-fold for our patients.”

It’s still early days in the planning for the new QEII Cancer Centre, but Cathy Gouthro, a retired registered nurse who works part-time in the medical day unit said, “above all, we want it to be a welcoming place of expert care, support and hope.”

New cancer centre in Sydney

Anyone who has ever needed and had treatment at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre (CBCC) in Sydney has only glowing praise for the specialists and staff and the care they provide.

However, like the QEII Cancer Centre, staff in Cape Breton have also been challenged by lack of appropriate space.

“We have always focused on providing the highest quality of cancer care closest to home,” said Chris Hillier, a dosimetrist at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre.

“In recent years, this has been tested by a lack of necessary physical space.”

Today, cancer care specialists and staff at the CBCC provide a variety of treatments, supportive care and follow-up to about 625 patients each week.

A decision this spring to construct a brand new building instead of renovating the existing centre will meet the need of future patients, and ensure:

  • • a thoughtful and functional layout;
  • • minimal disruption to current patients;
  • • and a modern design, which will help enhance the wellbeing of patients, their families and staff.

Dr. Ron McCormick, a medical oncologist and medical director of the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, says the CBCC has needed a larger foot print for some time. “It’s vital that we go in this direction.”

Hillier agrees, adding, “with an increasing number of patients due to an aging population and continuing improvements in cancer care, we need to plan today for the future.

“The new building will allow us to deliver modern, high-quality care to residents from Cape Breton to Antigonish for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Already, the CBCC redevelopment project has 11 working groups, each focused on a different area. Each meets regularly and nine of these have successfully recruited patient and family advisors.

Some of the initial planning work has identified several new and enhanced features that will be incorporated into the Cancer Care Program, including:

  • • a streamlined patient-focused registration process;
  • • a patient support room with expanded services;
  • • and improved patient and staff education opportunities.

While planning for the new cancer centres in Halifax and Sydney is at different stages and delivering care in these modern facilities is still a few years off, there will be continuing opportunities for staff, patients and communities to provide input.

The ultimate goal is to ensure these new buildings help NSHA’s Cancer Care Program continue to provide Nova Scotians with world-class cancer care for generations to come.