The Dominion Post

Cancer plan: It’s something but not enough

... at the same time it’s underwhelm­ing – disappoint­ing many patients, doctors and others ...

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Astep in the right direction will typically be welcomed. Less so, however, when more progress was anticipate­d. The Government’s announceme­nt of a substantia­l investment in new radiation equipment for cancer patients is neither insignific­ant nor sufficient.

It will do good, particular­ly in regions where people have been poorly served. It is something concrete.

And yet, at the same time it’s underwhelm­ing – disappoint­ing many patients, doctors and others who were expecting, or at least hoping for, something more radical.

Patients and their families will be keenly aware that it’s not the anticipate­d creation and resourcing of a promised National Cancer Agency.

Nor is it a response to the many anguished cries for more funding for cancer drugs.

Much as the Government emphasises that this is but the first tranche of its cancer plan, with further announceme­nts to come later this month, there’s a sense that the Government, not yet ready with its own package, felt the need to zip in with a rushed announceme­nt in the wake of National’s own policy announceme­nt of a cancer agency and $200 million more for cancer drugs.

Seen purely as something to be getting on with, the radiation machine upgrade plan does deserve something more than National’s sardonic big whoop.

This, the Nats say, is just a case of replacing machines that need replacing, and therefore scarcely anything more than the daily business of government.

That’s an assessment not without its perils for National to advance, given the near-certainty that the Government will retort that it’s nice to see the

remnants of the Key administra­tion rediscover­ing the need to fund replacemen­t equipment.

More substantiv­e is the Government’s point that although one in two people with cancer would benefit from the use of radiation therapy, only one in three is getting these services.

This is further evidence of the postcode cancer lottery in which people in some regional DHBs have been shown to have a higher chance of getting cancer and a lower rate of being able to get it checked.

When the Government says this spending will mean 1200 people each year access radiation treatment locally, rather than travelling long distances, that’s no small thing.

Some patients choose not to travel, because the stresses and complicati­ons of doing so, heaped atop the torments of the condition itself, are simply too daunting.

If addressing this ugly inconsiste­ncy in service is business as usual then we certainly haven’t been seeing enough of it in recent years.

The Government will replace ageing radiation machines and – this is new – make radiation treatment available in Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Northland.

The recipients of the new machines will have to form an orderly queue during the next three years and it won’t pass notice in the regions that the five new Linac machines, costing $25 million, to be rolled out at the end of the year will go to the Auckland, Canterbury, and Capital & Coast boards, and Palmerston North will get two.

Others will follow, to more regional areas, in the following two years.

The National Party will not be alone in asking why the regions that don’t currently have facilities are the last places to get them.

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