Cuts at CancerCare will be hard to defend
ANCER touches everyone. If you haven’t experienced it directly, there’s a 100 per cent chance you know someone who has. And the number of Manitoba families whose lives are upended by a cancer diagnosis continues to increase each year.
It’s these simple truths that are destined to make the portion of the provincial government’s healthcare-austerity agenda that focuses on CancerCare Manitoba the most difficult to defend, as the cuts are being implemented now and also when Manitobans return to the polls in 2020.
A freedom-of-information (FOI) request filed by the NDP, aimed at securing savings-target correspondence sent to various health authorities, revealed that CancerCare was informed last February that it would have to find $2.5 million in annual budget savings to meet newly imposed costreduction goals.
The letter to CancerCare president and CEO
Dr. Sri Navaratnam, which also directed the organization to reduce managerial staff by 15 per cent, was sent one week after the province cancelled CancerCare’s plan for a new $300-million facility, which would have consolidated all its services under one roof.
It was revealed this week that to meet its
C$2.5-million savings target, CancerCare has eliminated seven management positions, including directors of medical physics for cancer care, radiation therapy, clinical practice guidelines and development for underserved populations. The workloads of the individuals who occupied those roles have been redistributed among remaining managers and executives.
CancerCare has also reduced or eliminated out-of-province travel by staff, as well as membership in professional associations and networks that charge a fee for membership.
NDP health critic Andrew Swan said the CancerCare cuts revealed by the FOI request took him by surprise. “The idea that it’s being targeted in the same ways as other organizations is disappointing,” he said, adding that the belt-tightening in cancerrelated service is evidence that “this premier is bound and determined to look at the bottom line and not worry about patient care.”
A statement released by a spokesperson for Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen did not directly address the issue of care for cancer patients, instead reiterating that the budget-reduction request to CancerCare Manitoba was in line with what other health-care agencies and regions have been asked to do in order to address the province’s fiscal challenges. The health minister’s office also pointed out that despite being directed to find $2.5 million in annual savings, CancerCare actually received a $5-million budget increase this year — an amount directed mainly to cancer-drug costs and negotiated wage increases for unionized staff.
The main concern in identifying the provincially mandated savings at CancerCare, according to Dr. Navaratnam, is “not to impact patient care.” But it’s hard to imagine patient care and the pursuit of best possible outcomes for Manitobans battling cancer, not being affected by austerity measures that limit access to information and professionaldevelopment opportunities for those on the front lines of the cancer fight.
At a time when cancer researchers seem poised on the brink of new techniques in genome sequencing, which could revolutionize cancer treatment, it verges on reckless to cut costs in a way that might prevent Manitobans from accessing the latest and best information and therapies.
And since cancer — the No. 1 cause of death in Manitoba — will continue to touch everyone, the cuts-to-CancerCare portion of the province’s austerity program could very well become an issue of concern in the next election campaign.