MLAs deplore lack of cancer screening equipment in Nunavut
"Too many cases where people are diagnosed too late, especially elders and older Inuit"
Cancer in Nunavut is often diagnosed too late, Nunavut MLAs said March 5 in the Nunavut legislature.
That was their message to the minister of health and social services, Keith Peterson, during a discussion about the health department’s budget for 2013-14 in the assembly’s committee of the whole.
Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk said that when it comes to diagnosing cancer, or treating elders, many times they are told they are “too old” or just given Tylenol and sent home.
“[There are] too many cases where people are diagnosed too late, especially elders and older Inuit,” he said.
The lack of medical equipment necessary to detect cancer earlier rather than later is an issue in the territory, Peterson said.
“We don’t even have a CT scan, we don’t have an MRI… these are the types of sophisticated technology that are needed in Nunavut to detect cancer early,” he said.
The Nunavut Report on Comparable Health Indicators 2011 said people in Nunavut are four times more likely to develop lung cancer and then die of this cancer.
And they’re twice as likely to die of colorectal cancer, which is treatable 90 per cent of the time if caught early. But there is no screening program for colorectal cancer in Nunavut.
Also concerned that cancer is not being diagnosed fast enough at the “community level,” Pangnirtung MLA Hezekiel Oshutapik asked what other technology initiatives for better cancer screening have been undertaken, and who would train people to operate that equipment.
Oshutapik wanted to know how cancer screening in Nunavut could be improved, especially in smaller communities.
Although an earlier diagnosis of cancer is better for earlier treatment, “we rely on patients themselves to get to health centres,” Peterson said.
Then, if an individual needs specialized services, then they’ll be sent to Iqaluit or elsewhere for those services , he said.
Currently, there are plans to bring a CT scanner, which uses a medical imaging method to diagnose internal injuries or tumors to the Qikiqtani General Hospital.
The health department had said the scanner — which costs up to $2 million — should be in operation by March 2012.
But in response to a question from Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott, Peterson said that a CT scanner for Iqaluit would be operational by this coming fall.
Right now, the only equipment that can help with cancer screening is a mammography machine located at the hospital in Iqaluit.
The health department doesn’t have the capacity in Nunavut for a “full-fledged” mammography program, Peterson said.
For 2013-14, MLAs approved a $280.4 million budget for health.
That’s an increase of 4.5 per cent ot $11.4 million over last year, part of which which will mainly be used for salary increases under the new collective agreement, Peterson said.
The other $6.1 million includes more money for:
• implementation of the tobacco reduction framework;
• shortfalls in the nursing recruitment and retention strategy;
• expansion of mental health progam at Akausiksarvik;
• an increase of one nurse to three Kivalliq communities; and,
• four new community therapy assistants in the Baffin region.
Peterson said the department also expects to submit a supplementary appropriation request of $24.9 million next winter.
The department spends more than $62 million a year on travel, according to the department’s main estimates for 2013-14.
“A lot of our services are demand-driven,” Peterson said. “People get sick. People need to be quickly medevaced to a hospital. There are very expensive costs for out-of-territorial physicians, out-of-territorial hospital costs, medevac costs, and medical travel costs. Those are costs that we can’t control if we don’t have our own hospitals and our own specialists/physicians in Nunavut.
“It’s conceivable that if I had another $100 million for the Department of Health, it might not be enough, but we have to work with what’s available.”
The current Department of Health and Social Services, will split into two departments, one for health, the other for social services, on April 1.