New IHA contract is expected to affect animals needing cancer care

Health Minister Terry Lake say he will look into the situation and see if there are any solutions.

Veterinarians giving a dog a health examination.

Veterinarians giving a dog a health examination.

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

A Kamloops veterinarian is accusing the Interior Health Authority of using a contract “as an excuse to leave our patients to die.”

In a letter to the IHA, Dr. Matt Nicol of Riverside Small Animal Hospital expresses his disappointment the health authority has signed a contract that precludes it from selling intravenous chemotherapeutic cancer treatments to veterinarians.

IHA has advised local veterinarians that, effective Jan. 2, Royal Inland Hospital will cease selling the medication to them except in the case of extreme emergencies.

In the letter, the health authority explains it has a new purchasing contract that prohibits it from selling medications to other health professionals.

The letter directs veterinarians to other sources in Langley and Calgary but Nicol says in his letter neither “can provide the pharmacy role of preparing chemotherapy treatments.”

He said preparation of intravenous chemotherapy agents requires special equipment and highly trained personnel only found in pharmacies equipped to produce oncology medications.

The drugs are only stable for about one day, Nicol said, “so they need to be prepared close to the point of delivery. In Kamloops, there are no pharmacies who can perform this task, except the RIH.”

Nicol said his clinic on Lorne Street has, at any given time, about two animals receiving intravenous cancer treatment and requires about one prescription to be filled every one to two weeks.

There are only two cancers that can be treated, Nicol said, lymphoma and cancer of the spleen. Others require the intensity of treatment that an animal can’t sustain as a human can.

Nicol said while he understands it’s not IHA’s mandate to provide medications like these for animals, there is a therapeutic value many people feel from their pets.

He spoke of an elderly dog with cancer. Nicol didn’t expect the owner to agree to the cost and time involved to treat the disease, but she did.

“She said to me ‘This dog helped me through my cancer, so I have to help her through hers’.”

Nicol said he has heard from Health Minister Terry Lake, who said he will look into the situation and see if there are any solutions. Nicol said he hopes Lake’s questioning is successful, even if it is short-term.

“At this time, if you withdraw this service — for which we have been very grateful — there is no alternative provider,” Nicol wrote to IHA.

“We are faced with telling the families of our patients that their companion has a treatable disease, but we simply cannot help them and they will die unless they are prepared to drive to Calgary every three weeks for treatment.”

Nicol’s letter went to Suzanne Gardner-Clark, health services director at RIH, and Ian Petterson, manager of pharmacy services for IHA West. It was also sent to Lake, himself a veterinarian.

KTW was unable to reach Lake or any IHA employee about the new contract as of press time.