(Another) modest proposal

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 53 , No. 9 , November 2011 , Pages 455 Letters

The Ministry of Health is to be congratulated on the $5 million awarded to InspireHealth to expand its program of integrated cancer care across BC.[1] From the InspireHealth website[2] it appears that their program provides intense emotional and supportive care for cancer patients combined with advice on complementary and alternative therapies.

In the news release of 3 June 2011, the ministry states that “There is growing evidence that integrated cancer care… can significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and increase survival.”

At a public meeting with the Honourable Mike de Jong (Minister of Health), Dr Hal Gunn, founder and CEO of InspireHealth, stated, “Our survival of patients who come through InspireHealth is substantially better than patients who just use standard care alone.”[3]

This allocation of tax dollars represents less than 0.03% of the entire provincial health care budget, and yet the statements above indicate that BC cancer patients who do not have ac­cess to InspireHealth and its programs have a lower chance of overall survival and a greater risk of recurrence. Neither Minister de Jong or Dr Gunn provide any measure of the survival rates attainable, but any reasonable person would interpret their statements to indicate at least a 10% to 20% increased survival.

I propose the minister has an ethical duty to urgently expand this program across the province, and indeed across Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 75000 Canadians will die of cancer in 2011[4]—a “substantial increase” in survival would save the lives of up to 15000 people. Similar programs expanded worldwide would presumably save millions of lives and would famously increase the reputation of health care in BC.

It also follows from the above statements by Minister de Jong and Dr Gunn that cancer patients and their families should urgently subscribe to the advice of InspireHealth, irrespective of the cost.

The late American astronomer Carl Sagan observed that extraordinary claims are not often backed up by extraordinary evidence. In view of the enormous importance of these claims by the Ministry of Health and by Dr Gunn, I can only presume that the supporting data will be published as soon as possible. It would be a lamentable failure if this cannot be provided.
—R.M. Preshaw, MD
Saltspring Island


References

1. BC expands access to integrated cancer care [press release]. Vancouver: BC Ministry of Health, 3 June 2011. Accessed 5 October 2011. www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/media/2011HLTH0033-000647.pdf.
2. InspireHealth Integrated Cancer Care. Accessed 5 October 2011. www.inspirehealth.ca.
3. Expanded cancer care options in BC [press conference on YouTube]. Acces­sed 6 October 2011. www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h6-DIdss1I&noredirect=1
4. Canadian Cancer Society. General cancer statistics at a glance. Updated 18 May 2011. Accessed 6 October 2011. www.cancer.ca/canada-wide/about%20cancer/cancer%20statistics/stats%20at%20a%20glance/general%20cancer%20stats.aspx.

R.M. Preshaw, MD. (Another) modest proposal. BCMJ, Vol. 53, No. 9, November, 2011, Page(s) 455 - Letters.



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