EDITORIAL – Critics of sending cancer patients to U.S. miss the point

Health Minister Adrian Dix.

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

ALL THIS CRITICISM of sending cancer patients across the border for treatment mistakenly — but, perhaps, intentionally — conflates two related yet distinct healthcare issues: permanent fixes for a broken system versus stop-gaps.

About 4,800 breast cancer and prostate cancer patients will be able to access treatment at Bellingham clinics over the next two years. In addition to treatment costs, the government will cover all costs for testing and medication plus travel, meals and accommodation.

Critics are blasting the move based on the sorry state of B.C.’s cancer-treatment program and the healthcare system in general. They point out that wait times for cancer patients to begin treatment have deteriorated. Only 77 per cent of patients begin therapy within the four-week window considered acceptable after diagnosis, compared to the 96 per cent national average.

They also correctly remind us that diagnosis and treatment are only two steps in the cancer journey. Patients must first endure weeks of waiting for an appointment with a GP or NP, weeks or months more to see an oncologist, and then even more time until testing is available and results analyzed.

It’s a terrible situation. How embarrassing that a healthcare system and cancer-treatment program we were once so proud of must now hand off its patients to an American system we used to regard with disdain.

But the alternative to temporarily making use of the Washington state clinics is to risk continued long delays in treatment, and that’s just not palatable. The health ministry insists it is “adding more cancer centres,” an unmet promise we know a lot about in Kamloops.

Anyone who has experienced cancer, or had loved ones who have, knows about the stress and toll of having to bus to Kelowna for radiation.

Certainly, having to access treatment in the U.S. will be even more stressful but it beats the alternative of having to endure unacceptable wait times.

The critics should bear that in mind.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served as mayor of Kamloops, school board chair and TNRD director, and is a retired daily newspaper editor. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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