Advocates call plan to send some B.C. cancer patients to Bellingham bittersweet

Advocates call plan to send some B.C. cancer patients to Bellingham bittersweet

Over the next two years, close to 5,000 B.C. breast cancer and prostate cancer patients will be referred south of the border for treatment at one of two cancer clinics in Bellingham, Wash., where they’ll get faster treatment.

Those who support cancer patients on Vancouver Island say shorter wait times are welcome.

“We see the reality of patients who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer who are not receiving treatment for weeks and weeks on end, and that is so extremely stressful,” said Leanne Kopp, executive director of the Island Prostate Centre.

But she says the prospect of receiving treatment away from home isn’t ideal for patients either and will likely cause more stress.

“You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, and now you’re being forced into a decision where if you want treatment, you have to leave your community and your support system of family and friends who are going to help you through this very difficult time.”

Kopp says this crisis could have been avoided if the government had started planning for it years ago, and she isn’t the only one.

“Our cancer agency has been underfunded for years. Our radiation technologists, the physicists, the oncologists have all been inadequately compensated compared to other provinces across Canada,” said Saanich family physician Dr. Jennifer Lush.

And Lush says this short-term solution won’t come cheap, with the province paying not just for the treatment in the U.S. but travel and accommodations for the patient and a caregiver as well.

According to the Ministry of Health, the Bellingham program will cost $39 million per year, with $5 million extra should patients need emergency care unrelated to their treatment. That’s $88 million over the two-year program.

On Tuesday, B.C.’s premier said it’s worth whatever it takes to get cancer patients the treatment they need on time, something that isn’t currently happening for everyone across the province.

“For somebody facing a cancer diagnosis, my commitment to them and their family is that we’ll do whatever is necessary for them to get the treatment that they need,” said Premier David Eby.

While the hope is that this will ease some of the short-term pressure on the cancer care system, the province promises longer-term help is coming, with an $800 million plan to improve cancer care and reduce wait times closer to home.

READ MORE: B.C. to launch new 10-year cancer care plan with $440M initial investment

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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