Only 46 per cent of cancer biopsies being performed within target: Auditor General
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 6, 2017 12:12PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 7, 2017 7:41AM EST
TORONTO -- Long wait times for cancer biopsies, underuse of radiation therapy and millions of dollars paid to U.S. hospitals for stem cell transplants are some of the health-care issues highlighted in a report by Ontario's auditor general.
The report, released Wednesday, looked at Ontario's $1.6-billion annual cancer care system, concluding that while most patients are well-served, long waits for certain procedures and inefficiencies related to others remain in some areas of care.
"Our audit of cancer treatment services found that Ontarians needs were not fully being met in the areas of radiation treatment, ... scans and wait times for some urgent cancer surgeries and diagnostic services," Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said.
The audit found that only 46 per cent of key biopsies to diagnose cancer are performed within the Ministry of Health's 14-day target. It also found that a provincial target to provide radiation therapy in 48 per cent of cancer cases has not been met, with only 39 per cent of patients receiving the treatment in 2015-2016.
The report also noted that the government is spending millions to send cancer patients to the United States for stem cell transplants because of limited capacity to perform the procedure in Ontario. The cost to send a patent out of province for the treatment is $660,000 compared to $128,000 on average in the province.
The Ministry of Health paid $35 million to U.S. hospitals to perform the transplants on 53 patients between October 2015 and June 2017. Projections call for another 106 patients to be sent to the U.S. for transplants from July 2017 to the end of 2020-2021.
Only in 2016-2017 did the province approve capital projects to expand stem cell transplants in Ontario. Earlier planning could have mitigated many of those difficulties, Lysyk said.
"The province's limited capacity to perform stem cell transplants was first identified as an issue in 2009," she said. "In the next six years, this issue led to excessive wait times and costly out-of-country procedures."
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the province spent $31 million this year to bolster the health system's ability to provide stem cell transplants for patients at home.
"We've changed the funding formula so I think we recognize more accurately the type of effort that goes into supporting an individual and a family that faces this challenge in life," he said.
The report also says the full cost of cancer drugs is not covered for patients if they are not administered in hospital. In British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba such drug coverage is provided regardless of where the drugs are taken.
More than 29,000 people died of cancer in Ontario in 2016, making it the leading cause of death in the province. The government estimates that about half of all Ontario residents will develop cancer in their lifetime and one in four will die from it.