The headlines have been shocking this last week as the B.C. government announced it was going to start sending patients to Bellingham, Washington for radiological cancer care.
On the one hand, something had to be done. The wait times in B.C. have grown from being the best in Canada in 2012 to the very worst. Every day a patient waits for diagnosis and treatment, their outcomes worsen. Having people get to treatment is the only thing to do.
But the decision raises a number of questions.
Why did the government wait so long to take action? My colleagues and I have sounded the alarm about issues in cancer care for the last two and a half years. Copious amounts of time were spent in budget estimates and Question Period March through May asking questions about cancer care wait times and what was being done to lessen them. The response was reassuring rhetoric that everything was “fine”.
But everything was, and is, not fine.
Then, as the story broke, further revelations of wait times actually being worse were revealed by BC Cancer were made, contradicting what had previously been stated by the health minister.
This was an attempt to signal how bad things actually are, far worse than the minister had previously indicated.
We already know this was true because of our experiences with cancer care, or the care of our loved ones. I have heard through emails and phone calls from hundreds of constituents with cancer about the difficulties with waiting.
BC Cancer is an extraordinary organization that is full of exceptional healthcare providers, but they are frustrated with the lack of resources, both human and capital.
As we heard more stories of the inordinate waiting times and the worsening outcomes, we pressed government for action. This action is too little, and too late.
The last time a government sent patients to the U.S. for cancer care was in the 1990s, under the last NDP government. This time, it will cost much more than it did back then.
Twenty percent of all B.C.’s breast and prostate radiation patients will be heading to the U.S. for care. The cost is estimated at $12,000 per patient, plus travel expenses.
The total estimate government has given is $30 million. Critics say the actual cost will be much more. Health Minister Adrian Dix stated the government will send just under 5,000 patients to the US. At a minimum, that would be almost $60 million.
It’s not just about taxpayer cost. It is also about the equity of the situation. Patients from rural and remote communities will have to travel even further for treatment, if they can make the journey, and they will have to have someone travel with them. What about a patient without a passport?
B.C. has the worst cancer outcomes in Canada and the worst wait times.
Cancer is a formidable opponent. It has affected so many of us personally, directly or indirectly, and the battle against it requires every resource at our disposal. It can kill us.
The government knew there were significant investments in cancer care needed and failed to take action. Now patients are paying with their lives.
We need a fully funded cancer care plan, and we need it now. Yesterday was already too late.
My question to you this week:
How do you feel about British Columbian patients being sent to the U.S. for cancer treatment?
I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.
Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.