CALGARY — Alberta will spend $1.3 billion over the next three years on health facilities in Calgary and Edmonton, including badly needed upgrades to cancer centres in both cities.
The projects includes $141 million for improvements to Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, which has been operating beyond its capacity for years. The funding announcement Thursday makes good on a political promise first made by the government in 2005.
“It marks the start of some long-awaited relief of space issues for cancer care in Calgary,” Dr. Peter Craighead, medical director of the centre, said Thursday. “This funding boost will provide urgently needed capacity.”
The plan calls for the Tom Baker Cancer Centre to be expanded into the Foothills Hospital, including 64 new inpatient beds and new radiation units.
Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute will get a new CT scanner, a new radiation therapy machine and other upgrades.
There is also money to expand vascular surgery and women’s health facilities at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Centre and to upgrade the pediatric intensive care unit at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital.
The health capital funding was approved earlier this year in the government’s budget. Normally the projects would have been announced in the spring, but the spending plan was repeatedly delayed.
Premier Ed Stelmach was on hand for the announcement in Calgary, a city where opinion polls have suggested he is less popular than in the north. But Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky did most of the talking.
Zwozdesky said the cancer care announcements will dovetail into a new provincial cancer treatment strategy the government is developing that will help people with the disease get timely treatment, closer to home. The strategy is to be announced in the new year and will focus on prevention, treatment and research.
“Today’s announcement is really about three things. It is about expanding capacity now, it’s about building a foundation for consolidating the cancer services that we have, and it is about working on what the future of cancer care is going to look like going out to 2020,” Zwozdesky said.
Earlier this year the government announced a new cancer care facility will be built in Grande Prairie as part of the $1.2-billion first phase of its health care capital project plan. Thursday’s announcement is the second phase, bringing total spending to $2.5 billion.
Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann praised the government’s announcement, but said it was long overdue.
Swann, a physician and former medical health officer, said the challenge will be to ensure that there are enough oncologists and other health professionals to properly staff the expanded cancer centres.
“We are building facilities, opening wards and we are unable to staff them,” Swann said. “This government has not planned appropriately for the operational costs and the capital costs.”
Earlier this year, Dr. Peter Venner, Cross’s director of medical oncology, said more funding from the province is needed to deal with the shortage of medical specialists. Dr. Charles Butts, a medical oncologist at the Cross also said a plan is needed to recruit more doctors or the shortage of oncologists will only get worse.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said he is concerned that new facilities and expansions won’t be properly staffed.
“Making these new facilities work is not something this government has figured out yet.”
— By John Cotter in Edmonton