4 Aug 2019

Some regions to get radiation equipment for first time, govt announces

7:42 pm on 4 August 2019

The government has announced the replacement of ageing radiation machines and what it says will be easier treatment for cancer patients in the regions.

David Clark, Jacinda Ardern at cancer treatment announcement in Wellington alongside Dr David Hamilton, Head of radiotherapy at Wellington Hospital and Dr Claire Hardie, Radiation Oncologist at Palmertson North Hospital

David Clark and Jacinda Ardern at the announcement at Wellington Hospital alongside head of radiotherapy Dr David Hamilton, and Palmertson North Hospital radiation oncologist Dr Claire Hardie. Photo: RNZ / Yvette McCullough

Health Minister David Clark said half of the 24 existing public machines would be replaced over the next three years.

Dr Clark also said Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Northland would eventually get radiation equipment for the first time, resulting in 1200 people a year not having to travel for cancer treatment.

"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."

"Today's announcement is a clear demonstration of our commitment to delivering a consistently high level of cancer care nationwide. Further major announcements will follow with the release of the Interim Cancer Action Plan later this month," Dr Clark said.

Five machines will be installed in the first year for Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington and Coast and two at MidCentral.

MidCentral would have a replacement in Hawke's Bay in 2020/2021 and in Taranaki the following year.

A machine for Northland was also planned.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was aware of instances where "in some areas people are travelling two, two-and-a-half hours in order to receive daily treatment".

"When you are fatigued, when you are unwell, when you are away from your family ... that means some New Zealanders are choosing not to travel - that should not be a choice anyone should have to make," she said.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Cancer Society whose medical director said it helped address the "postcode lottery in cancer care".

Dr Chris Jackson said the society was eagerly awaiting the government's full plan.

"Strong central leadership and a national approach to cancer is something the Cancer Society has been calling for. This announcement is a step in the right direction to ensure New Zealanders have fair access to cancer treatment no matter who they are and where they live."

'Desperate attempt' - opposition

Simon Bridges pictured 21 May 2019

Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

However, the National Party dismissed the announcement calling it "rushed and underwhelming".

"This will be bitterly disappointing for thousands of cancer sufferers who would have been expecting a lot more today," its leader Simon Bridges said.

"This is little more than business as usual that any government has to do, replacing machines that need replacing," he said.

"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."

Mr Bridges said it was a "desperate attempt" from the government to look like it was doing something while it continued to have no plan.

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