The provincial government has approved a concept plan for a long-awaited, long-promised new cancer centre in B.C.’s interior that would open by 2027 in Kamloops, but one local MLA says he will believe it when he sees it.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday (May 25) government has approved the concept plan for a cancer centre at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital. Dix pegged the cost of a typical new cancer centre between $200 and $300 million, with the final figure coming this fall following approval of the business plan, which he said is moving forward quickly.
“We are doing it now and this is a good time to do it,” Dix said, when asked what assurances he could give locals that the centre would go ahead.
Dix’s announcement comes after years of questions about the state of cancer care in Kamloops and the region.
Former premier John Horgan first made the promise to build a cancer care center in the city on the campaign trial in 2020, pledging to complete its construction within the four-year mandate he later won.
Horgan’s government later moved away from that goal in 2021 by confirming that it had folded the planned centre into its 10-year cancer care plan.
Dix in March 2022 repeated the promise to build the facility without citing a specific date. That changed on Thursday.
“I expect 2027,” Dix said, when asked when the facility would be fully built, functional and staffed. “That’s the intent.”
The new facility in Kamloops will be one of four new cancer centres around the province.
“We need to distribute cancer care service around the province,” Dix said. “This is why we are building and are in the process of building four new cancer centres, here in Kamloops and three other communities (Burnaby, Surrey, Nanaimo) to provide care closer to home and to meet the significant increase demand in care that we see.”
The facility would not only include additional beds and clinical trial capacities, but also radiation therapy. This allows local patients to stay in the community without having to travel to Kelowna as currently the case.
“This change is a fundamental one,” he said. “It recognizes the central importance of Kamloops to this region and to our health care system (and) the central importance of Royal Inland Hospital.”
According to the provincial government, some 1,000 patients can expect to undergo radiation treatment at the new centre in its opening year.
Locals had long pushed for radiation treatment in the region.
Plans are also underway to build a 470-stall parkade to help service the facility.
Thursday’s announcement in Kamloops — which Kamloops’ two BC United MLAs Todd Stone and Peter Milobar attended — happened some 24 hours before Dix joins Premier David Eby for an announcement about cancer care in Nanaimo.
It also comes after several days of critical coverage about the government’s decision last week to send some 4,800 patients over two years to two facilities in Bellingham in Washington State to help reduce waiting times for certain types of radiation treatment at home.
While some voices have praised the government for the decision, others have seen it as an indictment of cancer care in B.C.
BC United House Leader Todd Stone is among them. He said the fact that the facility won’t open until 2027 means that Kamloops and area residents must continue to travel to Kelowna for another four years for an estimated 60,000 radiation treatments.
“Furthermore, the announcement today was clearly a rush job,” he said. “There was no big concept design on a big board, there were no shovels to do a little sod turning, none of the local officials or the hospital direct were invited to participate. Frankly, it is not hard to think that today’s announcement was really part of a broader plan to change the channel after announcing last week that thousands of British Columbians will be diverted to Bellingham for much needed cancer-services because they cannot get them in a timely fashion here.”
Stone added his party will hold government accountable to the promised but “vague” timelines. “When it comes to health care and cancer services in particular, people in this city and in this region don’t believe much of what Adrian Dix has to say.”
When asked about the timing of Thursday’s announcement, Dix said government announced additional investments of $440 million toward cancer care months ago. Government had also previously committed itself to building the four new centre, he said.
“I want to get it done as soon as possible,” Dix said. “So if I was going to wait for a week when I wasn’t being criticized, I might be waiting for a long time.”
Coun. Dale Bass, who in the past has been critical of the government, said she is “skeptically optimistic” about the announcement.
“I’ve heard the ‘we will build it’ too many times to not remain skeptical,” she said.