09/11/2013 08:11 EDT | Updated 11/11/2013 05:12 EST

Cancer society charges patients $100 for rides to treatment

Starting in October, cancer patients in Ontario are going to face a new fee for a service that's been free for 60 years.

The Ontario arm of the Canadian Cancer Society is going to implement a one-time, $100 fee to provide rides to cancer-related appointments.

The society said it's because of an increase in both costs and demand.

"The Canadian Cancer Society is committed to providing transportation but the service is expensive — we spend more than $6 million a year on the program and we've seen almost a 20 per cent increase in the number of patients needing rides in one year alone," said Tanya Nixon, Senior Manager, Transportation, Canadian Cancer Society. "This was a difficult but necessary decision to ensure the future of our transportation service so that we can continue to help cancer patients get to treatment."

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Judy Lund with the Windsor, Ont., office said the rides had been paid for by donations and a small amount of government money.

"We do lots of fundraising and we're looking for sponsorship, but we really felt, given the environment, this fee would be something that we really need to institute at this time," Lund said.

There is a compassionate program that can help cover part of the fee for anyone who can't afford it.

Lund said the majority of patients use the service 10-17 times each during treatment.

Lund said her volunteer drivers gave 4,000 rides in Windsor-Essex County last year alone.

Sue White's husband had cancer, so she knows first-hand how difficult it can be to get to and from treatment. Now she's a volunteer driver.

"It can be a great difficulty for families, especially if they're having to go every day for radiation when the clients aren't feeling well," she said. "I've always had accolades come from the people we drive — about how important we are to them."

Fee grandfathered in

Anyone already enrolled in the driving program now won't be asked to pay for the service. But new registrants will pay the $100 fee.

The Canadian Cancer Society fears if it doesn't start implementing a fee it could lose the program all together.

"It was a difficult decision to make, but the intention is to help people who cannot get to the appointment in any other way, and we want to be sure that the program is not only here to help people today but tomorrow and in five years," Lund said.

The transportation service is offered province-wide and meets the needs of all kinds of patients who have any type of cancer and a range of treatment needs of varying duration. Some patients have no access to public transit and no other means of getting to treatment and many find the cost of alternative transportation, such as taxis, and parking prohibitive.

Last year volunteer drivers helped 15,500 patients in Ontario and drove more than 12 million kilometres, a distance that is equivalent to driving around the world almost 300 times.