Jacinda Ardern announced the first part of the government’s cancer plan which is set to impact many in the regions. Not quite following? Here’s what you need to know.
So, what’s the big news?
The big news is that the government has announced that cancer patients in Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Northland will, for the first time, have access to locally available radiation treatment.
Currently, those with cancer have to travel to bigger cities such as Auckland to receive treatment, often having to spend weeks away from friends and family while others simply miss out on treatment altogether. This development is set to allow cancer patients in the regions to access high-quality care without the need to travel long distances.
How much is the government planning to spend and on what?
The first part of its cancer plan will include the purchase of 12 new radiation machines over the next three years costing $25 million. Five of these will be installed before the end of this year with Auckland, Canterbury, and Capital and Coast district health boards (DHBs) each getting one, and Palmerston North DHB getting two. Funding for this will come from the $1.7 billion the government invested in hospital and health facilities in the Wellbeing Budget.
What sort of impact is this expected to have?
Jacinda Ardern, who made the announcement yesterday at Wellington Hospital with the health minister, David Clark, estimated that by putting state-of-the-art radiation machines into areas that haven’t previously had one, it’ll allow 1,200 people each year to access radiation treatment without the need to travel.
Clark also said the new machines will provide “more precise treatment, reducing negative effects such as damage to surrounding tissue, supporting faster recovery time”.
“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 when every day is precious.”
That’s great, but wasn’t someone talking about cancer drugs recently? Where’s the policy on that?
Yes, someone was talking about cancer drugs recently, but that someone wasn’t Ardern or Clark – it was National leader Simon Bridges. At the party’s annual conference last week, Bridges announced plans for increased cancer drug funding if his party won in 2020. He said $200 million over four years would be ring-fenced for Pharmac to spend on proven cancer drugs and a nationwide cancer agency would be established.
Right, so what’s National’s response been to the government announcement?
Pretty scathing. Bridges said that replacing old machines was nothing more than “business as usual” and that the announcement would be “bitterly disappointing for thousands of cancer sufferers who would have been expecting a lot more”.
“While it’s good that some patients won’t have to travel for treatment, there is no additional funding for more oncologists and radiographers who will be required to carry out the treatment,” he said. “There is still no target for treatment timeliness and no certainty that treatments will be better or faster.”
So what now?
It seems unlikely the government will be able to leave it at this. After all, it was Labour that promised to set up a nationwide cancer centre back in 2017. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet, but the pressure to live up to its promise continues to mount not only from National but from those personally affected by cancer as well.
Clark hinted on Breakfast last week that a plan for such an agency was being developed and would be unveiled soon. He also signalled they would be looking at new drugs. We’ll just have to wait until later this month to find out when further major announcements are made with the release of the Interim Cancer Action Plan.