The Dominion Post
PM kicks off cancer care plan
The Government is pledging to spend millions on upgrading radiation machines and making cancer treatment more accessible in the regions.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that the Government would fund the replacement of half of all the country’s radiation machines, with 12 linear accelerator (Linac) machines to be purchased over the next three years.
The replacement Linacs will mean cancer sufferers in Hawke’s Bay, Northland and Taranaki won’t have to travel to a larger centre for treatment.
Ardern estimated 1200 people each year would have better access to treatment options. This is the first step in the Government’s cancer strategy, with its Interim Cancer Action Plan to be released later this month.
Five of the new Linac machines, costing $25 million, will be rolled out by the end of the year. Auckland, Canterbury, and Capital and Coast district health boards will each get one, with Palmerston North to get two.
A further four will be rolled out next year, including one in Hawke’s Bay, followed by three more in 2021, including one in Taranaki.
The announcement was welcomed by 21-year-old Emily Foreman, who has to travel from Taranaki to Palmerston North for sixweekly cancer treatments.
‘‘Being able to stay in your own home is going to make such a huge difference to so many people,’’ Foreman said.
The Government announcement comes after the National Party pledged last month to introduce a $200 million cancer drugs fund and a new cancer agency if elected in 2020.
Malcolm Mullholland, whose wife, Wiki, has stage four breast cancer, said the Government’s announcement was good news – but it did not go far enough.
The ‘‘elephant in the room’’ had not been addressed – the funding of cancer medication, he said.
At a press conference at Wellington Regional Hospital yesterday, Ardern told media: ‘‘A cancer plan that works has to be comprehensive and must include radiation treatment, as well as pharmaceuticals and preventative measures.
‘‘Radiation is an effective form of cancer treatment, and one-in-two people with cancer would benefit from its use. But only one in three are accessing these services. That is why we are making the single largest government capital investment in it.
‘‘Currently patients from Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki are forced to travel to get the radiation treatment they need. We know others simply don’t travel and miss out on treatment altogether.’’
Health Minister David Clark said the new machines would offer better outcomes for some patients. ‘‘We know for some lung cancers, newer technology can reduce treatment times from as much as six weeks to as little as three days. It can also mean improved life expectancy.’’
Dr Carol Johnson, from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, said Maori and Pacific people, and those living in rural areas, had less access to vital health services.
The upgrade meant cancer patients would have access to the latest technology delivering targeted, safe and cost-effective modern cancer treatment.
The Cancer Society said the announcement was a positive step to addressing the postcode lottery in cancer care.
Cancer Society medical director Dr Chris Jackson said there had been expert consultation and sector engagement prior to the announcement.
‘‘We’re eagerly awaiting the full plan as we work towards better cancer outcomes for all New Zealanders.’’