CancerCare CEO ‘very disheartened’ over senior’s wait for biopsy

The president and chief executive officer of CancerCare Manitoba says she was "very disheartened" to learn this week a Winnipeg man suspected in September of having cancer had not yet received a biopsy.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/01/2019 (1531 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The president and chief executive officer of CancerCare Manitoba says she was “very disheartened” to learn this week a Winnipeg man suspected in September of having cancer had not yet received a biopsy.

In an interview Thursday, Dr. Sri Navaratnam said she is well-aware of how difficult it is for patients and family members when there is uncertainty over a cancer diagnosis.

“The most difficult thing for people is waiting,” she said. “I really regret that this patient incident (had) to happen.”

Navaratnam encouraged anyone experiencing road blocks in the system to contact CancerCare to hook up with its care navigation team. The teams are available to assist both cancer patients and those suspected by their physician of having cancer. (Contact information is available on the organization’s website.)

Navaratnam said when the teams are used, treatment begins within 60 days of the suspicion of cancer, two-thirds of the time.

While she doesn’t want teams to be needlessly swamped with calls, Navaratnam said it’s important Manitobans know of this important service.

About 6,500 Manitobans are diagnosed with cancer each year. As many as 10 times that number are suspected of having cancer.

“Do we have the capacity to talk to 65,000 people? Probably not,” she said. “But at least we want to get the difficult (cases). If something is going smoothly, that’s OK.”

In the case of suspected breast cancer, there’s already a quick process. Once a lesion is discovered in a breast, patients are referred directly for a biopsy, Navaratnam said.

“If things are going smoothly, we don’t need the help of the navigation (teams), but if not, we want (patients) to get the help.”

Earlier this week, the daughter of an 81-year-old Winnipeg man suspected by his physician in mid-September of having cancer went public (with the help of Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard) to draw attention to the fact her dad had still to receive a biopsy.

Kathryn Braun said her father, George Myer, was feeling dejected and frustrated. She said he is worried “he’s being forgotten and ignored.”

Reached late Thursday, Braun said a navigation team was not involved in her father’s care. She had been uncertain if her dad would even qualify for such help without a biopsy result. (He would, CancerCare said.)

The navigation teams — available in health regions throughout the province — were one of the more successful byproducts of the provincial government’s Cancer Patient Journey initiative launched in 2011.

While that five-year initiative ended in 2016, much was learned and several programs arising from it continue to this day, Navaratnam said.

The CancerCare CEO said one key area in which the system must improve is in the monitoring and measuring of outcomes. “It is not to my satisfaction.”

For example, the latest data available in Manitoba for measuring the speed of breast cancer treatment is for 2014-2015, when 40 per cent of patients were treated within 60 days of their being suspected of having the disease. In 2011, only 18 per cent of patients began treatment within the 60-day target.

A spokeswoman for Tory Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday while the Cancer Patient Journey initiative was wound down — a decision, she said, which occurred while the NDP was in power — work is underway to develop a preventative and clinical services plan to guide service funding and delivery.

“Hundreds of clinical experts are looking at specialty areas and reviewing data on service delivery and care models so they can make recommendations on how to improve the system for patients,” she said in an email.

In a statement, NDP health critic Andrew Swan said his party was proud to create the previous initiative that set the 60-day treatment target.

“In two weeks, the Pallister government will award the contract for a value-for-money audit… an excuse to barrel ahead with their plan to cut services for patients at CancerCare,” he charged, referring to a previously disclosed government consulting contract.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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