British Columbians will get four new cancer care centres that can offer radiation treatment as the province gets ready for an increase in cases of age-related cancers.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday that new cancer care centres will be opening in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Surrey and Burnaby.
These centres are still in the early planning stages, which has sparked criticism from opposition party BC United, who say former premier John Horgan first promised a new cancer care centre in Kamloops during his 2020 campaign. At the time Horgan said the Kamloops facility would open its doors by 2024.
Dix said the Kamloops centre will likely open by 2027. The government will be able to present and approve a business plan for the Kamloops and Nanaimo centres by the end of the year, he added.
The Kamloops facility will be added on to Royal Inland Hospital and will feature three radiation treatment rooms, a CT scanner, MRI scanner, an outpatient oncology ambulatory care unit including 10 exam rooms and staff support.
Kamloops and the Thompson-Cariboo region have various cancer treatment centres but no clinics that provide radiation therapy treatment, “which is necessary treatment for approximately 50 per cent of all cancer patients,” Dix said. That means patients have to travel for several hours to reach Kelowna or another city for treatment.
This new Kamloops centre is projected to cost between $200 to $300 million and will be provincially funded.
On Friday, Dix headed to Vancouver Island to announce that a plan has also been approved to bring cancer care to the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
Dix said the hospital will be upgraded to expand the existing oncology unit to increase the number of treatment and exam rooms and replace the current pharmacy.
The new centre will offer radiation therapy, an outpatient ambulatory care unit and a PET/CT machine, Dix said.
The Nanaimo centre is also predicted to be ready for patients by 2027, according to the Health Ministry.
That’s the same year the new Surrey hospital and BC Cancer Centre will be operational, the ministry said in a statement. The Burnaby centre is currently in the planning phase and the ministry did not give an estimated completion date.
After these four new cancer care centres are completed, B.C. will have 10 in total.
“Demand for cancer care services is going to continue to increase due to advanced diagnostics, technology and treatment resulting in more people living with cancer for longer,” Dix said. “We have an ageing population and significant increase in age-related cancers.”
Around 30,000 British Columbians are diagnosed with cancer every year, he added, which is expected to jump to 45,000 within a decade.
“This brings cancer care closer to home for thousands of patients for years to come,” Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi, head of BC Cancer, said at the Kamloops announcement.
He calculates in its first year the centre will offer 6,600 patient radiation appointments and 14,000 treatment visits.
But Peter Milobar, BC United MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, isn’t so sure.
B.C. has a “severe” nursing shortage, he told The Tyee. Across the province one in five people don’t have a family doctor but in the Kamloops area it’s two in five.
Milobar said that while specialized health-care workers may be attracted by a new, state-of-the-art clinic, there’s still the question of how to recruit and retain staff so that the centre can be up and running as soon as it is built.
He’s also skeptical that the Kamloops facility will be open by 2027 because when it was first proposed the NDP told people in Kelowna it would be ready by 2024. It should be three-quarters built by now, not in the early planning stages, he said.
Dix said funding for the Kamloops clinic would be in the 10-year budget.
A government’s 10-year budget is just a “wish list,” Milobar said, adding that it’s the three-year budget that “really matters.”
“We’re all very skeptical and cynical here,” Milobar added. “We want centres built and for treatment to be expanded closer to home, but there’s frustration at the government’s foot-dragging and a lack of faith that they feel the urgency here.”
Milobar said the delays in the promised completion mean that 26,400 radiation appointments and 56,000 treatment visits that would otherwise have been able to get treatment locally will have to happen in Kelowna, Prince George, Vancouver or Bellingham, Washington.
Announcements seem like a “rush to change the narrative” after the government said it would be sending patients to the U.S. to access radiation therapy treatment, he added.
Earlier this month the government said it would send 4,800 cancer patients to Bellingham for radiation treatment over the next two years to reduce patient wait times.
All eligible patients will have all costs related to their treatment covered, including travel, meals and accommodation.