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British Columbia will send some cancer patients to the United States for radiation treatment starting May 29 in an effort to reduce backlogs and long wait times, says the province’s Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Speaking at a press conference on May 15, Dix said breast and prostate cancer patients will be referred to one of two partner clinics in Bellingham, a city in Washington state, with costs related to treatment, travel, accommodation, and meals fully covered.
A press release from Dix’s department said these patients are among the first to be eligible because they are “the largest group of patients receiving radiation therapy.”
“We are not prepared to have people wait,” Dix told reporters. “That’s why as we searched out this option, [this] opportunity, saw that it was available, we did not hesitate to offer this to British Columbians.”
Dix said nearly 83 percent of B.C. patients requiring radiation therapy are able to start the treatment within 28 days—the maximum wait time deemed appropriate. However, the percentage is way below the national average of 96 percent.
In 2021, more than 30,000 people in B.C. were newly diagnosed with cancer, the province said in the release.
According to Dix, the two Bellingham clinics—PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center and the North Cascade Cancer Center—will see up to 50 patients from his province each week.
“Over the next two years, approximately 4,800 patients could benefit from the program we’re announcing today,” he said. “This would represent 12,000 radiation treatment sessions per year, or 24,000 over the course of the program.”
“Using this additional, available capacity beyond a patient’s B.C. health authority, in Bellingham, will help BC Cancer reduce radiation therapy, wait times for breast and prostate cancer patients,” he added, referring to the province’s cancer agency.
The minister attributed the delays to shortages of key personnel such as radiation technologists and oncologists, along with delays due to equipment upgrades at some facilities, among several other reasons.
“Across most categories in B.C., we are making significant improvements in reducing wait times,” he said. “However, with respect to radiation therapy, that is not the case.”
Dr. Kim Chi, BC Cancer’s chief medical officer says though the arrangement with the Bellingham clinics is temporary, it helps patients to receive the care they need sooner.
“Timely radiation therapy treatment is critical for people with cancer, both for their survival and overall quality of life,” he said in the release.
Dix said the arrangement will allow B.C. to work on expanding its own cancer care system.
Should the change not lead to enough added capacity for radiation therapy, he said the program may be opened up to more patients.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.