BC to send Cancer patients to Bellingham clinics for radiation treatment


VANCOUVER – To ensure people have faster access to life-saving radiation treatment, and reduce wait times for radiation treatment, starting May 29, 2023, BC Cancer is temporarily offering eligible patients radiation treatment at one of two clinics in Bellingham, Washington.
The move will launch a temporary initiative outside the province that could support as many as 50 additional radiation patients each week.  Breast cancer and prostate cancer patients will be the first patient groups eligible to travel to Bellingham for their treatment because they are the largest group of patients receiving radiation therapy.
The clinics in Bellingham, Wash., are located at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center and the North Cascade Cancer Center.
Through BC Cancer and the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), eligible patients will have all costs related to their treatment covered, including travel, meals and accommodation.
As a temporary addition to the public health-care system, all costs for medical services, testing and medication related to the patient’s radiation treatment, prescription medications and laboratory testing will be covered by the Province.
Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, said, “To ensure every effort is being made to get cancer patients the treatment they need, we are temporarily referring patients to clinics across the border. This immediate action will support patients while we expand cancer services and hire more cancer care staff throughout the province.”
While many welcomed this move, BC United Shadow Minister for Health Shirley Bond called the step “an alarming indictment of the state of B.C.’s health care system under this government’s leadership.”
“B.C.’s cancer care system used to be recognized as one of the best in the world, but now it is among the worst in the country,” said Bond. “I’m glad these measures will give more British Columbians timely access to desperately needed treatment, but it’s absolutely devastating that the NDP has to send these patients across international borders for the care they should be able to get in B.C. Imagine facing radiation treatment far from home, in another country, without your support system. It just shouldn’t be this way.”
According to Dix, over the next two years, approximately 4,800 patients will benefit from this temporary program, representing approximately 2,400 patients per year. This would provide approximately 24,000 sessions of radiation treatment over the course of the program, or 12,000 session per year.
During the same time, B.C. is expecting to see approximately 1,000 new patients requiring radiation treatment. By adding capacity for an estimated 4,800 more patients over the next two years, B.C. is taking action to ensure more people receive their radiation treatment by clinical benchmark. These efforts will help B.C. meet growing demand while creating redundancy to replace equipment and position the province to keep up with demand into the future.
“We are incredibly grateful to BC Cancer physicians and staff for their unwavering commitment to patient care in the midst of increased patient loads,” said Dr. David Byres, president and CEO, Provincial Health Services Authority. “This temporary measure will support those facing cancer while we continue our efforts to recruit specialized clinical and support staff, upgrade our infrastructure, and work with our health authority partners to deliver on the priorities in B.C.’s 10-year cancer action plan.”
A BC Cancer support team will help patients by arranging appointments, co-ordinating travel plans and greeting them when they return to their regional BC Cancer centre.
“Being diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming. We appreciate that travelling for treatment can cause added stress at a difficult time, both for people with cancer and those who care for them.” said Heather Findlay, chief operating officer, BC Cancer.
Patients who wish to receive treatment in Bellingham, as well as their accompanying caregivers, will need to have passports and visas as applicable.
Any emergency (unplanned) treatment and associated hospital costs will be 100% covered for patients requiring unexpected medical care.
For patients who experience these additional health challenges, safely transferring them to a B.C. hospital will occur in collaboration with the regional health authority, BC Cancer and – if necessary – BC Emergency Health Services.