Some cancer patients in British Columbia will soon have the option to receive radiation therapy in Bellingham, Washington, as part of a temporary initiative to reduce wait times and increase capacity in the province’s cancer care system.

BC’s Minister of Health Adrian Dix announced on Monday that beginning on May 29, eligible breast cancer and prostate cancer patients will be able to travel to one of two clinics in Bellingham, located a short drive south of the border, for their treatment.

According to Dix, the government will cover any additional costs of travel or accommodations for the duration of the treatment. 

“This commitment to supporting radiation treatment will initially focus on a specific group of patients – breast cancer and prostate cancer patients – are the largest patient populations receiving radiation therapy,” said Dix. 

The new policy could help up to 50 patients per week receive immediate care. 

Physician and Macdonald Laurier Institute Munk Senior Fellow of Healthcare Policy Dr. Shawn Whatley told True North that the move by BC was a step in the right direction and to the benefit of patients. 

“Well done! We should applaud BC Health Minister Adrian Dix for taking seriously the government’s promise to provide access to care. Patients should have wait-time guarantees,” said Whatley. 

“Let’s hope BC can carry through with their plan. Medicare was supposed to be a promise by governments to pay for care. It has become normal in Canada to deny care and do nothing about it. Hopefully other provinces follow BC’s lead.”

Dix said the province is making the move because BC hasn’t been meeting its target for ensuring cancer patients receive radiation therapy in a timely manner.

“But for British Columbians dealing with a cancer diagnosis, right now, in May of 2023, that’s not fast enough. For them, for those they love. It’s not acceptable,” said Dix. 

Both North Cascade Cancer Center and PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center will be offering services to Canadians. 

The head of BC Cancer Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi also praised the decision saying that it ensures increased capacity and timely access to healthcare. 

“Importantly, this initiative won’t just benefit patients who can travel, “Chi said. 

“It will also ensure increased capacity, and therefore, timely access for people across the province waiting for their radiation treatment.”

Recent data shows that over three million Canadians are currently on a healthcare waiting list as provinces scramble to patch up capacity issues.

“It’s difficult to generalize from this one announcement. The waits in BC for cancer treatment add to a long list of other waits we already know about. Canadian healthcare exists in a continuous state of crisis,” said Whatley. 

“But we cannot say that this announcement makes the crisis worse or more real. If anything, this announcement finally shows us that someone is taking the situation seriously.”