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'Glaring failure': 6 months in, critics slam B.C. plan to send cancer patients to U.S.

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Leah Rowntree was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in April, shortly before B.C. announced it would send patients like her to Bellingham, Wash., for radiation therapy.

Fast forward seven months, and on Tuesday, Rowntree had her first radiation treatment. But she chose to pay for it in Houston, Texas, not trusting the B.C. system to get her into treatment in the province—or in Bellingham—in time.

”We were uncertain that I would actually get on the schedule, regardless of when I needed it,” said Rowntree Tuesday from Houston.

The province announced in May it had arranged for British Columbians with breast and prostate cancers to get radiation treatment in Bellingham—pledging to pay the expenses for 50 patients per week—because wait times in B.C. were too long.

“They can’t even send the number of patients that they've contracted for,” said BC United leader Kevin Falcon during question period Tuesday.

Government documents obtained by a freedom of information request show that since the program began, 1,310 patients were referred for radiation in Bellingham, yet only 533 were actually eligible and agreeable to going to the United States for their radiation. Only 310 have started it, which calculates to an average of just under 12 patients per week.

“We’re now seeing that it was a glaring failure, resulting in less than a quarter of those it was supposed to help actually getting the treatment,” said Falcon, noting the province had contracted for the 50 patients per week.

Health Minister Adrian Dix focussed on those who have gone to Bellingham for treatment.

“Hundreds of people getting care is good news -- who have made the choice to go there, and who are supported in going there and are getting excellent care there,” said Dix Tuesday.

But lost faith in the system is widespread.

“The ER doctor himself said if you have the means to leave the country to get treatment, do so,” said Campbell River resident Kristin Logan on Tuesday.

She chose to heed that advice and pay for prompter treatment in Washington State to treat her Stage 4 ovarian cancer.

“Had I put my faith in the system that everything was working out how it was supposed to, I would not be here. I would have died,” she said.

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