SAULT STE. MARIE — Sault Area Hospital’s announcement on Tuesday that local cancer patients needing radiation will have to travel to Sudbury instead for treatment — for a five-month period between February and July 2024 — will affect some patients more than others.
The latest development is inconvenient but necessary as SAH needs to install new radiation treatment equipment.
Cancer Care Ontario states that radiation treatment units must be replaced every 12 years and SAH’s unit is now due for replacement.
From Feb. 11, 2024 until July 2024, patients needing radiation, or radiation combined with chemotherapy, will receive their care at the Shirley and Jim Fielding Northeast Cancer Centre (NECC) in Sudbury while SAH installs its new radiation treatment unit.
Travelling to Sudbury for treatment will be inconvenient enough for patients who feel well enough to travel, but what of those who are frail, in pain and already hospitalized?
“Admitted inpatients will be transferred via hospital-to-hospital transfer as per existing protocols,” wrote Brandy Sharp Young, SAH spokesperson in an email to SooToday.
Those protocols include Ornge providing air ambulance or ground transportation services for admitted patients requiring hospital-to-hospital transfer.
Canadian Cancer Society: Wheels of Hope Volunteer Driving Program, Ontario Northland or Driverseat Sault Ste. Marie may be available for non-admitted patients requiring transportation to Sudbury.
The inconvenience of travelling to Sudbury may lead other patients to put off radiation treatment.
Such patients should speak with their doctor about that, SAH says.
“Any patient choosing to defer treatment due to the travel involved will have an informed discussion with the treating radiation oncologist regarding the risks of that decision in their individual situation,” Sharp Young wrote.
“Patients who are able to travel independently will do so. SAH will provide patients with an information package that outlines transportation options,” Sharp Young added.
That information will include tips on transportation, accommodation, parking and how to access the Northern Ontario Travel grant to help offset travel costs.
Patients requiring only chemotherapy will continue to be treated at SAH.
Cancer surgeries at SAH will not be affected.
“This interruption in service is for patients requiring radiation therapy or concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer surgeries will continue to be provided at SAH,” Sharp Young wrote.
The $2.25 million state-of-the-art radiation treatment unit to be installed at SAH is known as a linear accelerator.
“Linear accelerators are highly advanced pieces of equipment with multiple components, weighing over 25,000 pounds and standing eight feet high. These machines are sensitive and fragile, and the removal and installation of this equipment must be accomplished with utmost care,” Sharp Young wrote regarding the five-month gap in radiation treatment at SAH.
“This process includes decommissioning and removal of the current unit, preparing for the new unit, which requires renovations and construction, and commissioning, which includes extensive testing and training to ensure all radiation safety and quality parameters are met,” Sharp Young wrote.
“We are beginning to notify patients now. The interruption in service will not begin until Feb. 11, 2024,” Sharp Young wrote, as Tuesday’s announcement has come as a surprise to many.
“We recognize that this interruption in local radiation therapy services is both stressful and inconvenient for patients and their families,” SAH wrote in Tuesday’s news release.
The cost of the new radiation unit is funded by Cancer Care Ontario.
Community donations to the Sault Area Hospital Foundation will support additional costs related to the project.
From 2011 to 2022, SAH provided radiation treatment to 4,458 cases.
That’s an average of 371 cases per year.
Approximately 90 per cent of patients requiring radiation treatment have received it locally since 2011 with the exception of some patients requiring specialized treatment.
Does this announcement impact your treatments? Please email [email protected]