Cuts at CancerCare will be hard to de­fend

Winnipeg Free Press - - YOUR SAY -

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.

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