A meeting at the Smithers Legion in May led to the forming of a steering committee to keep and upgrade mammography services at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital in Smithers. (Chris Gareau photo)

Good news for breast health

Northern Health to proceed with procuring new mammography unit for Bulkley Valley District Hospital

Read the full story in the June 28 edition of The Interior News.

Northern Health is now working on getting a new digital mammography unit for the Bulkley Valley District Hospital.

There were fears that mammography services in Smithers would disappear soon when new regulations would make the current screening machine obsolete in 2018. If Smithers didn’t get a digital mammography unit, diagnostic screening would have to be done at Mills Memorial in Terrace with a mobile screening truck visiting Smithers a few times per year. Those tests determine whether a diagnostic follow-up would be needed.

Residents in the area were concerned about wait times and travel if this would be the case so there was a push and an outcry to retain services in Smithers. A committee was formed to fight for a digital unit and more than 1,200 people signed a petition to keep mammography services local.

Health services administrator Cormac Hikisch sent out a memo last week to key stakeholders notifying them that Northern Health has decided to proceed with procuring a digital mammography machine for the hospital. Northern Health has now made a formal request to the Screening Mammography Program of BC, which is a sub agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. Capital funding for the unit would be provided through the Provincial Health Services Authority.

However, he said that Northern Health had not made a decision yet about whether or not to get a digital machine when the outcry began. Hikisch added that it is great news now that a decision has been made and added it will help improve breast health in the Bulkley Valley. He wanted to send out the memo to be respectful to the community interest.

“The decision had not be been made, I think there was some confusion in the public. How decisions are made around diagnostic services varies,” said Hikisch. “With mammography, it is a bit of a unique process and a decision had not yet been made. Community interest came forward so we were open and transparent with that reality and I think the concern that a decision on not investing in an upgrade created some stronger community interest than we’ve seen with other topics.”

Hikisch said the strong community interest led Northern Health to establish a local breast health advisory group. The group, which will be made up of community members and medical staff, will meet three times over the summer. Topics to be discussed include mammography services, the broader topic of breast health and how to improve the uptake of screenings.

The group will start meeting in early July. They will give recommendations to Northern Health in the fall to help move forward with breast health in the Bulkley Valley.

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