Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Edmonton Journal Throne Speech coverage

By Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journal February 23, 2011 •Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute is expected to benefit from the province's new cancer-care strategy.Photograph by: Larry Wong, The Journal, File, Edmonton JournalThe province will introduce a new cancer-care strategy and to deal with on mental health and addictions to better address the health needs of Albertans, Lt.-Gov. Donald Ethell said in Tuesday's throne speech.

But the strategies, as well as already announced seniors beds and new hospitals, aren't new ideas and suggest the government is floundering for a better health plan after years of mismanagement, critics say.

"This is the same government that turned our health system upside down, and now they're letting go of the wheel so you have these vague promises -most of them are recycled announcements -that have been around before. And quite frankly, how can we trust them?" said David Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare.
In the throne speech, the government promised to roll out its mentalhealth strategy this spring, following a disastrous fall that saw provincewide problems in hospital emergencies, with long waits causing deaths, strokes and severe illness.

News stories about those problems spurred the government to introduce new emergency protocols and surgical blitzes to reduce wait times.

A new cancer-care strategy is also expected this fall.

"We will launch a co-ordinated provincial cancer strategy to reduce the incidence of cancer, increase access to cancer treatment across Alberta, and improve the quality of life for those living with the disease," Ethell said on the opening day of the spring session.

Last summer, dollars for cancer care were so limited and the supply of medical oncologists specializing in gastrointestinal cancer cases was so short, the Cross Cancer Institute was forced to offer chemotherapy only to patients for whom the treatment offered hope of recovery.

Patients like Ann Reynar, with no chance of a cure for Stage 4 colon cancer, were put on a lower priority for treatment. Reynar died while waiting for pain-reducing chemotherapy.

The province subsequently boosted cancer care in Alberta in December by launching $67 million in renovations at Edmonton's cancer centre to create a bigger pharmacy, a new radiation vault and more space for patients who currently receive chemotherapy treatment in waiting rooms and hallways because of a space crunch.

Another $141 million is being spent to build 64 more treatment beds and a massive addition to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary. More radiation centres are opening in Red Deer and Grande Prairie.

A new provincial cancer strategy won't fulfil former premier Ralph Klein's 2005 dream to pump $1 billion into new cancer facilities and establish Alberta as a world leader in research and treatment, said Dr. David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberals

"They have lost that option," Swann said. "(It's) awfully important that we get on with a cancer strategy that will actually meet the needs of Albertans."

"The cancer plan was promised over five years ago by Ralph Klein," said NDP Leader Brian Mason.

Though the throne speech promised the province will open 1,000 more continuing care or assisted living beds this year, those beds don't provide the complex medical care needed by seniors, Mason said.

"There is no mention of long-term care beds and even the number of assisted living beds they promised fall far short of the 14,000 needed in the next 10 years," he said.

New health facilities and hospitals in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge and Sherwood Park were also mentioned in the speech. But Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said there was no mention of how the province will staff them.

A new orthopedic centre in Edmonton has opened with no additional capacity or staff. Newly constructed hospital wards in Calgary have no nurses.

"We continue to have supply shortages of virtually all of the skilled health professionals, and in fact the entry level caregiver occupations," Ballerman said.

Diana Gibson, research director of the Parkland Institute, fears that shortage could worsen after Thursday's budget, when she believes the province will offer no funding increases to post-secondary institutions. That will mean more cuts to medical training spots, Gibson said.

jsinnema@edmontonjournal.com twitter.com/jodiesinnema

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