10 Aug 2020

Cancer patients going without potentially life-saving treatment

9:45 am on 10 August 2020

Some New Zealand cancer patients are going without potentially life-saving treatment because of rising Covid-19 cases in Melbourne.

Iv Drip in hospital corridor

File photo. Photo: 123rf

The patients have neuro-endocrine cancers, known as NETs, treatment for which is not available in this country.

The patients are deeply worried and urgently awaiting word from the Health Ministry and others about what accommodations might be made for them - either here, or in Australia.

Michelle Sullivan, the chief executive of the Unicorn Foundation - which supports people with neuro-endocrine cancers - said New Zealand currently has around 2000 people living with NETs.

"We've got around one person diagnosed every day and the tricky thing about this cancer is that most cancers are identified by where in the body they occur but these cancers are classified by the type of cell that's involved."

She said people that are diagnosed typically have had symptoms for four to seven years and have been seen by 14 different health professionals.

"By the time you get diagnosed, you're more likely than not to have metastasised cancer - it's spread around your body."

Sullivan said there are around 14 patients in New Zealand urgently needing treatment or are part way through treatment.

Last year, the Ministry of Health established public funding for Kiwis who needed to go to Australia for treatment. It was intended to be an interim solution until New Zealand was able to set up treatment locally.

Sullivan hopes that, because of the current situation in Australia, treatment will be fast-tracked in New Zealand.

"This [treatment] will extend their lives. We're not talking about people who get diagnosed and die within weeks and months as with some cancers. People live for years, and they live really productive lives. They contribute to our society and economy and, of course, they are a treasured part of their family."

Sullivan said it highlights issues with cancer funding in New Zealand and the treatment is performed in most other parts of the world.

"We need to expedite a permanent service that is going to be available to all patients that qualify."

She said there are other locations in Australia, but some such as Adelaide are more difficult to get to. Sydney and Brisbane are other possibilities, but the approval process would take some time.

"It's not necessarily going to be the most urgent thing they need to deal to."

Sullivan said the patients are immunocompromised and it's difficult to send them to places where there is community transmission and then have them in managed isolation in New Zealand where they're also at risk of cases.

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