Election 2011 UnSpun

Cynical Criticism of NDP Cancer Strategy A New Low for ‘Political Commentator’

by Errol Black

All political parties have made promises during this election campaign aimed at improving health care services in Manitoba.  One set of promises that stand out in terms of their scope and potential impact is that of the NDP relating to cancer services.

Back on June 10, 2011 the NDP government announced a “$40 million, comprehensive, aggressive and first-in-Canada cancer strategy to streamline cancer services and dramatically reduce the wait time for patients between the time cancer is suspected and the start of effective treatment.”

CancerCare Manitoba lauded the new initiative because it was expected to reduce the time of “the cancer patient journey from initial diagnosis to treatment that [could run three to nine months] to two months or less.” Dr. Dhali, president and CEO, CancerCare Manitoba said the new strategy “is a life-changer, as it will help CancerCare Manitoba and all other parts the health-care system work together to wrap our services around the needs of patients and better co-ordinate and deliver faster quality care to patients across Manitoba.”

On September 12 the NDP announced that if they are elected, this strategy would be bolstered by additional resources to “cut wait times, cover all drug costs, and make life easier for rural cancer patients.” The additional initiatives included in the add-on are: the full coverage of cancer treatment and support drugs for all cancer patients; and making the 16 current rural chemotherapy locations full CancerCare hubs, staffed with new cancer patient advocates to speed up access to required services for rural residents; and faster cancer screening.

The combination of the June strategy announcement and the subsequent election promise on September 12 simultaneously promised: enhanced access to cancer care services for all Manitobans; improvements in the quality of life of cancer patients and their families by covering the costs of drugs and increasing their treatment options: and reducing the economic costs of cancer treatment through the decentralization of services, reduced wait times and faster patient recoveries. Moreover, the strategy may well become a model for addressing other forms of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and mental health problems in Manitoba, and other provinces.

Unfortunately Manitoba’s mainstream print media chose to publish commentary that was cynical and disrespectful of the many individuals and families dealing with Cancer.  On September 14 the  Winnipeg Free Press printed a column by Deveryn Ross (characterized as a “political commentator based in Brandon”), titled, “Playing politics with Westman’s health.” Mr. Ross’ column was intended as a follow up to the September 12 announcement.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ross didn’t seem to understand the content of the strategy or its implications for cancer patients.

His column was repeated in the Brandon Sun (which is owned by the Free Press) on September 18 with a different caption (“Columnist accuses Selinger of playing politics with cancer”) and some slight changes in content. Despite these cosmetic changes this version has the same defects as the one in the Free Press, namely, shortage of facts and analysis, and mean-spirited allegations about the motives of the NDP.

We anticipate that citizens concerned about how we deal with cancer, and the future of our health care system will have more appreciation of and respect for a proposal, applauded by CancerCare Manitoba, than does Mr. Ross, The Brandon Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press. As someone who lost both parents to lung cancer, two sisters-in-law to breast cancer, and many friends to various forms of this terrible disease, I certainly do.

Errol Black is a Brandon resident and the Chair of CCPA Manitoba

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