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Frustrated cancer patients still waiting

Roger Sowry National Health Spokesperson

9 November 2001

Frustrated cancer patients still waiting

The Government's 'announcement' last week that it would pay for cancer patients to travel to Australia for radiation treatment is looking increasingly like it was policy made on the hoof, National's Health Spokesperson, Roger Sowry said today.

"Patients who have contacted the Minister's office have been referred to the Ministry of Health who in turn told them they would have to contact the district health board for details. Most of these boards have few if any details themselves.

"To highlight their difficulty a letter sent to the Ministry of Health by David Lamb who is the Head of Radiation Services at the Wellington Cancer Centre clearly demonstrates there is still total confusion over who is eligible.

"Dr Lamb has told the Ministry of Health that he is unable to implement the Ministry of Health's request to implement the patient selection process for treatment in Australia on the limited information he was provided by the Ministry."

Dr Lamb has also asked the Ministry of Health's chief medical adviser to withdraw and apologise for a statement that the existing clinical guidelines for post lumpectomy breast cancer treatment are that the patient should not wait more than 12 weeks for treatment following surgery. Dr Lamb states that there are no existing guidelines that state that a 12-week wait is acceptable for any patient.

"Earlier this week Annette King was unable to answer my questions in Parliament on why the Ministry of Health's chief medical advisor Colin Feek had extended the acceptable waiting time to 12 weeks. It was obvious from her response that she didn't know that her chief medical advisor referred to these new guidelines in a press release.

"It was also obvious that she hadn't taken note of a Ministry of Health briefing paper to her on this matter even though she referred me to the very same report in her response to a written question. Ignorance is no excuse for the Minister who must be on top of radiation oncology issues.

"To expect overworked Cancer Centre staff to work out the details and the fine print of this scheme in the absence of details from either Annette King or the Ministry of Health looks very much like buck-passing to me.

"The Ministry needs to urgently address important issues such as advising which patients are eligible for the available funding and identifying the patient selection criteria.

"In her two years as Minister, Annette King has only delivered growing numbers of people waiting for radiation treatment and longer waiting times," Mr Sowry said.

Ends


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