8 Nov 2023

Cancer patients forced to go private to get timely treatment

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 8 November 2023

An Auckland woman has had to dip into her house deposit to be able to get cancer treatment in time.

Allison Kennedy's treatment was beset with delays from the start - with her urgent referral for a mammogram not booked in until she chased the hospital for answers.

She told Checkpoint she was then told she would have to wait at least three months to get radiotherapy in the public system - the optimal treatment time is within eight weeks.

Kennedy said her GP was concerned about a suspicious lump from the get go, saying the target was four weeks.

In that time, she noticed the lump got bigger and it was indeed cancer.

But it was not easy to do something about it, she said.

"You're just stuck out there in this system waiting with no communication as a patient, and when that full week target comes and goes, you still hear nothing from anybody.

"Eventually I found the phone number to the scheduler for Auckland DHB and called them up to check on the status of my referral and they got me in the following week.

"If I hadn't, I have no idea how long I would have been left waiting."

Allison Kennedy

Allison Kennedy Photo: Supplied

She said without private insurance in New Zealand, "you don't get quality care".

"Had I not taken matters into my own hands ... the tumor was growing and it was aggressive and it was growing quickly and had I not gotten in when I did, I would not be talking to you today."

Kennedy was told she would need surgery and chemotherapy.

"They offered me chemotherapy first because that could potentially shrink the tumour and give me more options including radiotherapy instead of a full mastectomy. The chemotherapy was really successful and timely, the surgery was successful and timely, but the radiotherapy was not."

The recommendation for radiotherapy is six to eight weeks after the surgery, she said.

"There's studies that show if you don't have it within eight weeks of the surgery that your chances of the cancer coming back double, which is quite scary and something that was constantly in the back of my mind.

"You don't get referred to the radiotherapy until one week after the surgery is completed and they've got the biopsy results. So you're already one week in, and from that time they were telling me that the wait was going to be at least 12 weeks.

"I was so stressed. I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't eating right. I wasn't performing at work, I was already working less because I was going through active cancer treatment. I wasn't able to work full time so that was already an impact on the money that we had coming in and we talked to the oncologist and asked him what he would do and he said 'I've got deep pockets, If it were me, I would go private'."

But she said it was a major red flag that a health professional would not use the public system.

She decided to go private, but that meant dipping into her family's savings.

"So now we've got less money saved up for that house that we still haven't been able to afford."

Earlier this week it was revealed a man with a history of melanoma, now has terminal cancer after a delay in getting an MRI despite being referred by a specialist.