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The Saint John Regional Hospital. Image: Brad Perry

Shortage of radiation therapists in N.B.

By Regis Phillips Dec 22, 2023 | 7:28 AM

The Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists Atlantic (CAMRT-ATL) is alarmed at the current shortage of radiation therapists in the province, particularly in the Saint John area.

CAMRT-ATL says the Saint John Cancer Centre at the Saint John Regional Hospital is experiencing a 36 per cent vacancy rate among its radiation therapist workforce.

The radiation therapy service typically has a staff of 28 people but is currently down to just 18 therapists.

“There are national benchmarks that outline what the ideal timeframe should be when a patient is diagnosed and has done the testing required for treatment, and when they should access the treatment, so the benchmark is four weeks or 28 days,” said Jennifer Carey, regional manager of CAMRT-ATL.

Carey said this shortage in radiation therapists is affecting wait times for cancer patients across New Brunswick who are sent to Saint John for cancer treatment.

“In May for example of this year, the amount of cancer patients receiving their treatment within that timeframe was 99 per cent, however in August, that dropped to 84 per cent,” she said.

The association has been in communication with the Department of Health about the workforce crisis but has yet to meet with the health minister to discuss the deterioration it said began to accelerate in the spring.

“We would love to sit down with Minister [Bruce] Fitch and/or Premier [Blaine] Higgs as well as the Health System Collaboration Council and explain to them the unique factors influencing this growing crisis,” said Carey.

“We understand that there are shortages all over, however, we cannot all be painted with the same brush. This shortage is serious. It is
affecting the wait times for cancer patients. The situation can be improved if immediate action is taken and a sustainable strategy is created going forward, but we need the opportunity to share those solutions”.

Radiation therapy is one of four specialized areas of practice for medical radiation technologists (MRTs). The other disciplines of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, and radiologic technology are also experiencing historic shortages.

Like those in radiation therapy, shortages in the imaging disciplines are also causing backlogs for patient diagnosis and treatment, said the association.