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While many provinces struggle with waiting times, Manitoba bucks the trend

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

At a time when some Canadian hospitals are struggling to provide radiation treatment to cancer patients within one month, Manitobans are breezing through the system, often being treated within one week.

While other provinces have made progress, Manitoba is a provincial star in its bid to reduce health-care queues.

The Prairie province has gone from a six-week median waiting time for radiation treatment in 1999 down to a median wait of one week today.

How has Manitoba managed to not only meet the expectations of the health accord but actually exceed them?

"We had a problem," said Dhali Dhaliwal, president and chief executive officer of CancerCare Manitoba, referring to the years 1999 to 2001 when the province had to send cancer patients south of the border for radiation treatment.

"The staff and [provincial] government worked very hard to look at all the processes and try to improve them and increase capacity as well as the whole management of the system."

The biggest factor in improving waiting times came when the Manitoba government offered competitive wages for radiation oncologists, medical physicists and radiation therapists -- fields that were then in demand. It also purchased two new linear accelerator machines to provide radiotherapy and expanded training of its radiation therapists.

Dr. Dhaliwal said that, overall, 95 per cent of patients begin treatment within four weeks of their "ready to treat" date, which he defines as when a patient has seen the radiation oncologist, all medical investigations have been completed and a treatment plan has been agreed upon with the patient.

"I think the health accord resulted in additional funding being available to look at systemwide changes that we need to implement," he said.

"It has focused attention on capturing data in a reliable, robust way. We are able to identify where the gaps and bottlenecks are in order to be able to target solutions."

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