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Equitable cancer outcomes the aim

Opinion Piece

The biggest development for the health sector in more than a decade, establishing a national cancer agency, is a bold move but one that faces huge challenges.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark revealed on Sunday the Government’s cancer action plan for 2019-2029.

It involves setting up a Cancer Control Agency, boosting Pharmac funding by $60 million over three years and introducing a new system of fast-tracking Pharmac’s drug funding decision process.

The extra funding will increase Pharmac’s annual medicines budget to more than $1 billion.

The announcement was welcomed by Cancer Society medical director Chris Jackson, who said it was the biggest change in cancer care in the past 15 years, if not ever.

One of the main aims of the plan is to have equitable cancer survival rates across New Zealand by 2030, including across geographic areas and across ethnicities, eliminating the “postcode lottery” in which cancer care differs between regions.

This is where the Government’s plan becomes really relevant for this district, where there have been numerous complaints from cancer sufferers about delays in getting treatment. Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green has acknowledged the district needs to make gains in both getting treatment for local people and reducing the likelihood of people having cancer. Because the new measures are designed to do that, he says the DHB will be right behind them.

The common issue in Tairawhiti is helping patients who need more care at Waikato Hospital. The DHB is doing all it can to overcome this but it will probably always be a hurdle.

Something has to be done. Last year 23,000 New Zealanders were diagnosed with cancer. That is an increase of 30 percent over the past decade and the figure is projected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next 15 years. The disease was responsible for about a third of all deaths in New Zealand in 2015.

Sadly there will probably never be enough funds to meet the huge financial cost of cancer, particularly vastly expensive new drugs, but a revised and efficient system of delivering cancer care will make a major difference.