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Wait times

Manitoba launches first-in-Canada cancer strategy

WINNIPEG – A $40-million, comprehensive, aggressive and first-in-Canada cancer strategy will streamline cancer services and dramatically reduce the wait time for patients between the time cancer is suspected and the start of effective treatment, announced Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger (pictured).

“This is a bold step forward for patients in our province and I am proud that Manitoba will be the first in the country to implement this very important program,” said Selinger. “This important new initiative will ensure Manitoba patients have access to faster cancer testing, diagnosis and treatment by reducing the time for the entire patient journey to two months or less.”

Manitoba currently has the shortest wait time in Canada for radiation therapy at one week or less according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. This is a standard measure of wait times used in every province but only captures the wait from when a radiation specialist declares a patient ready for treatment to the day the treatment actually begins. This measure does not include other parts of a patient’s journey such as referrals, testing, diagnosis, and the development of a treatment plan.

This new initiative will address the entire journey, from when a patient’s family doctor first suspects cancer until treatment actually begins, said Selinger. CancerCare Manitoba estimates the full cancer patient journey for many currently takes three to nine months. It says this new initiative will reduce the total journey to two months or less.

The project is modeled after similar successful initiatives undertaken first in England as well as in New Zealand and Australia. Prof. Mike Richards, the national cancer director who oversaw the project in England through the National Cancer Plan and the Cancer Reform Strategy, will provide guidance with implementing the strategy in Manitoba. In 2009, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Richards for his successful and outstanding contributions to cancer reform.

“I am very pleased to share what we have learned and support this comprehensive and strategic battle against cancer,” said Richards, national clinical director for cancer and end of life care, National Health Service of England. “Our experience can support the rapid implementation of important and tangible changes to cancer services, which in turn change outcomes for patients.”

The Manitoba cancer patient journey strategy will include:

• streamlining health services for cancer patients and prioritizing areas for action;

• guaranteeing an appointment with a specialist within two weeks or less for urgent referrals;

• developing a rapid diagnostic network for cancer patients to better link and speed up diagnostic imaging and pathology;

• introducing cancer patient journey advocates to monitor and help cancer patients and families through their entire journey, identify delays and issues, and work to resolve them to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment; and

• establishing the Manitoba Partnership Against Cancer, a coalition of healthcare leaders who will focus on and ensure all parts of the healthcare system integrate their services and implement system-wide changes as rapidly and efficiently as possible to deliver patient-centred care.

“This spring, the provincial government committed $70 million to a new state-of-the-art CancerCare facility to improve cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment, a game-changer in the fight against cancer,” said Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, president and CEO, CancerCare Manitoba. “The cancer patient journey strategy announced today is a life-changer, as it will help CancerCare Manitoba and all other parts of the healthcare system work together to wrap our services around the needs of the patient and deliver better co-ordinated, faster and quality care to patients across Manitoba.”

This system-wide cancer reform strategy, which it is estimated will take up to five years to implement based on the experience in the UK, will focus first on areas requiring urgent action such as rapidly growing cancers, patients without a family doctor and waits identified as being particularly long.

Every year, more than 6,000 Manitobans are diagnosed with cancer, while up to 10 times that number are suspected of having cancer and undergo testing before it is ruled out. Like most other jurisdictions, Manitoba is projecting a 50 percent increase in cancer cases over the next 20 years.

“We believe this aggressive and proven strategy will make a real difference in the lives of Manitoba families by ensuring faster referrals, testing, diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients,” said Health Minister Oswald. “This strategy will improve the cancer patient’s journey by building on investments in cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment over the last decade and will help prepare Manitoba for the increase in cancer cases expected in the years ahead.”

Posted June 16, 2011