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New cancer centre coming to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital

Cancer patients north of the Malahat on Vancouver Island must currently travel to Victoria for many treatments, including radiation therapy.
Premier David Eby speaks at an announcement for a new cancer centre at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Friday, May 26, 2023. GOVERNMENT OF B.C.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog is celebrating news of a new cancer-treatment centre coming to his city to serve central and north Vancouver Islanders, adding the long drives his family made to Victoria for his wife’s recent cancer treatments only compounded the stress of the diagnosis.

The centre, at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, was announced by B.C. Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix in Nanaimo on Friday. With a concept plan approved and business plan underway, the centre is scheduled open in 2027 and will be the second cancer-treatment centre on Vancouver Island after Victoria. Such centres typically cost between $200 million and $300 million, said Dix.

“This fulfils one of the significant asks of the regional hospital board and everyone in Nanaimo who has suffered with cancer,” said Krog. For families with limited finances, the cost of travel and accommodation in more expensive cities like Victoria and Vancouver “is a horrible burden at the worst time you can imagine.”

“For my wife having had two bouts of cancer and others needing treatment in Victoria and Vancouver this represents a really positive improvement in the quality of life for literally thousands,” said Krog, adding about half the Island’s population lives north of the Malahat.

“If you live in Alberni, or Campbell River or Courtenay now you’ll be able to be there for the people you love where as before it wasn’t realistic,” said Krog.

Port McNeill Mayor James Furney expressed gratitude, saying the drive to Victoria for cancer treatment for his residents is five-and-a-half hours.

“The cost of accommodation in the big centres is prohibitive for an awful lot of people and Nanaimo is just that little bit more reasonable and brings it down to a three-and-a-half hour drive,” said Furney. His father, former Port McNeill mayor Gerry Furney, sought prostate cancer treatment in Vancouver. He died in 2019.

Each year in B.C. there are about 30,000 cancer diagnoses, about half of which require radiation therapy. That demand is estimated to increase to 45,000 in ten years due to an aging population, people living longer and a growing population.

Eby said one in two people in B.C. will face a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. “About 80 people a day get a potentially life-changing diagnosis in British Columbia,” said Eby. When that difficult news comes it’s important patients get the care they need, when and where they need it, he said.

“That is why Nanaimo will soon be home to a new cancer-care centre,” Eby said. “This will bring the latest life-saving technology closer to the people of Nanaimo, as well as residents of the central and north Island.”

The new centre will involve renovation and expansion of Nanaimo hospital’s existing oncology clinic. The number of treatment spaces and exam rooms will be increased and the cancer outpatient pharmacy will be replaced. It will be similar to those already in Victoria, Surrey and Kelowna.

The new cancer-treatment centre is expected to offer radiation therapy to 1,600 patients each year, and will have an outpatient ambulatory care unit and a new PET/CT machine.

A new radiation treatment space will be constructed to include four shielded treatment rooms for high energy radiation treatment linear accelerators, which deliver high-energy X-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumour.

Last week Dix announced that over the next two years, 4,800 breast and prostate cancer patients will receive their radiation therapy in Bellingham, Washington, as a way to reduce wait lists here.

Eby said the cancer-treatment system has been stretched by growing demand. “It’s led us to make some difficult decisions to make sure people are able to access the treatment that they need, when they need it,” he said.

Nanaimo NDP MLA Sheila Malcolmson called the announcement a “massive investment” in Nanaimo and critical for northern communities.

The BC United party, however, criticized the announcement in Nanaimo on Friday, and a similar announcement on Thursday for a cancer centre in Kamloops at Royal Inland Hospital, saying they were a rehash of announcements made in 2020 with not much progress since.

BC United noted their Nanaimo candidate Tony Harris made a cancer-treatment centre a priority in a 2018 by-election campaign, and it was an election promise that then-premier John Horgan made in the fall of 2020.

BC United Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone said this week’s announcements are “too little too late” and he doesn’t believe the centres are coming, at least for Kamloops.

“Our community does not believe a single word that comes out of Adrian Dix’s mouth especially when it comes to cancer care,” said Stone. “The former premier came to Kamloops in the heat of the last provincial election in 2020 and promised a full-fledged cancer centre would be built and have patients receiving care by 2024, and it was confirmed yesterday … it will be at best open in 2027-2028.”

Krog said “everyone would have preferred to have Nanaimo’s cancer centre years ago” but such centres take considerable time to plan and build. “Today is a day for celebration, this is not a day for partisan criticism, health care is for everyone.”

Nanaimo Coun. Janice Perrino, vice chair of the Nanaimo Regional Hospital District, called the announcement “fantastic news” and said she understands that the pandemic delayed a lot of worthy projects for the government. “I’ve worked in health care for 30 years and this is exactly what we’ve been hoping for, for 10 years,” said Perrino, noting it’s not only an expansion of the chemotherapy department but also a full radiation department making it similar to what Victoria, Kelowna and Surrey hospitals have.

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