Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver.
Last fall, The Globe and Mail’s Andrea Woo kicked off months of scrutiny of the care offered to B.C.’s cancer patients. What she found didn’t mesh at all with the preferred narrative of B.C.’s politicians. While former premier John Horgan said B.C. enjoyed a “well-deserved reputation for excellence in cancer treatment,” Andrea’s investigation showed that by many metrics of success, British Columbia had slid.
Current Premier David Eby was joined by Health Minister Adrian Dix on Friday, ahead of next Tuesday’s provincial budget, to announce his government’s new aggressive strategy to deal with the problem. B.C. will funnel an extra $440-million in funding to its cancer agency over the next three years to address the increasing need for cancer care in an aging population.
The government also pledges to hire more oncologists, something all provinces are trying to do. But B.C. is confident it will be successful: The strategy will make such specialists the highest paid in Canada. Cancer doctors in B.C. will see their pay bumped by $62,000 per year to $475,000.
Since the beginning of 2020, 18 medical and radiation oncologists had left BC Cancer, with some telling Andrea that they did so because they felt they could no longer provide an appropriate level of care.
On Friday, Mr. Dix would not offer specifics on what are the current waiting times for cancer care in B.C. He would say only that his ministry will move to make this information public on a monthly basis. However, as Mike Hager reports, internal wait-time averages leaked to The Globe and dating from last month show wait times increasing since 2021 and the frequency with which new patients meet with an oncologist within a benchmark time has been steadily declining.
The leaked information shows that only 82 per cent of B.C. patients get radiation within 28 days from the time a doctor recommends it, the worst in Canada. That’s down from a Canadian average of 97 per cent in 2021 and even below B.C.’s 2021 average of 88 per cent, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
“It is unacceptable to be in a situation in our province where someone is waiting for screening or waiting for treatment to the point that it’s compromising their cancer care,” Mr. Eby said when asked about the internal wait-time data.
Mr. Dix noted that British Columbia is second in Canada when it comes to positive outcomes for cancer patients.
Climbing out of the hole will take time.
The plan announced Friday is to take place over 36 months and Mr. Dix would not predict when patients would start to see change. The province aims to strengthen cancer care by emphasizing better prevention and earlier detection, along with swifter access to treatment. Mr. Eby said the $440-million is just a start.
Some $270-million of that money will go toward such improvements as expanded operating hours at cancer centres and financial help for people living in rural and remote areas who need to travel to get care.
The BC Cancer Foundation will receive a $170-million grant to support research and expand access to clinical trials, among other measures.
Lisa Danyluk, whose mother Geneva Reynen had her surgery cancelled in December while facing Stage 3 ovarian cancer, welcomed the investments on Friday.
“Any little bit is better than nothing,” Ms. Danyluk told reporter Justine Hunter. “But I think they are so far behind, that it’s going to take a while to get where we need to be as a province.”
Gynecologic cancer cases have been particularly affected by the backlog at BC Cancer, and Ms. Reynen’s surgery to remove a tumour and tissue was cancelled just minutes before it was set to begin.
After The Globe profiled her experience, Ms. Reynen has received chemotherapy and is now doing “really, really well,” her daughter said Friday.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.