Cancer never waits
The headlines have been shocking this last week as the BC NDP government announced that they were going to start sending patients down to Bellville, Washington for radiological cancer care.
On the one hand, something had to be done.
The wait times in BC have grown from being the best in Canada in 2012 — to the very worst.
Every single day that a patient waits for diagnosis and treatment, their outcomes worsen.
Something had to be done, and 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 been sounding the alarm bell 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 this 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, contradicting what had previously been stated by the Minister of Health.
This was an attempt to signal how bad things actually are – far worse than the minister has previously indicated.
We already know this to be true because of our experiences with cancer care, or the care of our loved ones.
I have heard through email 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 were hearing more of your stories of the inordinate waiting and the worsening outcomes, we were pressing government for action.
This action is too little, and too late.
The last time that a government sent patients to the US for cancer care was in the 90s, under the last NDP government. This time, it will cost much more than it did back then.
Twenty percent of all BC’s breast and prostate radiation patients will be heading to the states for care.
This cost is estimated at $12,000 per patient, plus travel expenses.
The estimate that the NDP have given is $30 Million.
Critics say that the actual cost will be much more.
Minister Dix stated that the government will be sending just under 5,000 patients to the US.
At minimum, this would be almost $60 million!
It’s not just about the 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?
BC 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 NDP government knew that 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 US for cancer treatment?
I love hearing from you!
Email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.