10-year cancer care plan in B.C. to improve detection and treatment: premier

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government is heeding warning signs in the cancer care system, launching a 10-year plan and earmarking an initial $440 million to better detect, prevent and treat cancer, Premier David Eby says.

The goal is to secure a "cancer-free future" for more people, Eby told a news conference on Friday.

Eby said the province is responding to a significant increase in demand for cancer care among people who put off screening during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now showing up, receiving diagnosis and needing care.

B.C.'s population is growing and aging, so more people in the province are likely to face a cancer diagnoses in their lifetime, he said.

Nearly everyone in B.C. has been affected by cancer in some way, through their own diagnosis or that of a family member or friend, he added.

"Thanks to advancements in preventing, treating and even curing certain cancers, more people are surviving their diagnosis ... That's the good news," Eby said.

"The challenge is that this increased demand has led to a situation where our cancer care system is stretched. In some cases, it's at capacity, and in this province, we will not accept people's cancer care being compromised by long wait times."

The plan is aimed at strengthening the cancer care system with a focus on better prevention, earlier detection and improved access to treatment, Eby said, noting the $440 million is an "initial" investment with more to come.

Eby said $270 million of that money will support immediate actions to improve care, including expanding hours of operation at cancer centres, introducing a new compensation model to recruit and retain oncologists, and adding funding for people living in rural and remote areas who need to travel to receive cancer care.

It also includes a $170-million grant to the BC Cancer Foundation to support research and improve access to specialized treatments, including expanding availability to clinical trials at cancer care centres.

The changes will save lives and improve the quality of life of B.C. residents, the premier said.

It builds on more than $1 billion in spending to improve cancer care since 2017, he added.

The strategy highlights 70 actions to recruit, train and retain health-care workers, while redesigning the system to foster workplace satisfaction and innovation, said a joint statement from Eby's office and the Ministry of Health.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. is second in the country when it comes to cancer outcomes, but the province wants to top the list.

Eby said Friday's announcement shows the province isn't waiting for the federal government's additional health-care dollars, even as six other provinces struck deals with Ottawa this week.

Health Ministry staff are working closely with federal officials on B.C.'s bilateral agreement and Eby said he would have more to say in the days ahead.

"Today's announcement, $440 million, is $100 million more than we'll see in year two of the federal government's increased funding for us," he said.

"We're going to keep pushing the federal government to at least match us in our efforts on these initiatives and we have talked with (Ottawa) about mental health and addiction care, about home care, about support for long-term care to take pressure off our hospitals, and other key areas, including cancer," Eby said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press