9 Dec 2014

Cancer costs set to skyrocket

7:08 pm on 9 December 2014

The cost of diagnosing and treating cancer will grow substantially in the next seven years, according to a Cancer Plan released today.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman on 29 July.

Jonathan Coleman Photo: RNZ

The plan, launched by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, said more than $500 million a year was spent on diagnosing and treating cancer - 6 percent of all publicly funded health spending.

By 2021 that would increase by more than 20 percent, driven by a growing and ageing population.

A key focus of the plan is a recently launched government health target, aimed at boosting the number of patients who receive care - from any tests or investigations needed for a diagnosis to their first treatment - within 62 days.

The target is to get 90 percent of patients within this timeframe when referred urgently with a high suspicion of cancer by June 2017, up from 60 percent currently.

Dr Coleman launched the national plan at Wellington Regional Hospital, where he told staff and others it would provide gold standard cancer care.

"What this means is we have a comprehensive rather than a segmented approach to cancer," he said.

"It's supported by a very clear target and, ultimately, what this means is we are going to be able to make a real impact in terms of early detection and treatment of cancer."

Dr Coleman also said the Government was keen to move towards national screening for bowel cancer, and said it was working hard to address workforce problems related to bowel cancer screening.

"We've been investing money in successive budgets to build up the colonoscopy workforce, so it's a matter of correctly resourcing over time the workforce to deliver those colonoscopies," he said.

"But the early indications are that bowel screening will save lives, and we're very keen to move on that as soon as we have the capacity in the workforce."

Cancer society chief executive Claire Austin said details not in the plan, especially regarding the workforce, would be vital to achieving its goals.

"You can have all the service goals you like but if you haven't got the infrastructure and workforce behind that, you haven't got the right skilled professions and they're distributed in the right areas, that's a really critical component to any successful service," she said.

"So we'd like to see where the pragmatic linkages are going to be."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs