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Radiotherapy times drop for cancer patients

31 May 2005

Radiotherapy waiting times drop for cancer patients

Waiting times for New Zealanders needing radiotherapy treatment for cancer are continuing to drop, with no patients now having to travel to Australia for treatment.

Health Minister Annette King says the latest radiotherapy waiting times for March 2005 show no patients waited more than 12 weeks for radiotherapy treatment in category C, and only six patients waited for more than eight weeks.

(Category C mainly covers post-operative patients, those with breast cancer or prostate cancer where a short delay in commencement of radiotherapy is unlikely to adversely affect the outcome. The wait time measured is the interval between the decision to treat and the commencement of radiotherapy.)

“We can still reduce waiting times further, and that is our intention, but we are starting to make real progress thanks to a series of initiatives introduced by this Government,” Ms King says. “The trend is positive, but waiting times do fluctuate from month to month and can often worsen as quickly as they improve. Still it is very encouraging that the trend is finally moving downwards, and I thank staff at the country's six cancer treatment centres for their hard work and dedication.

“New Zealand hasn’t seen waiting times as short as this for several years. At times people have had to wait 18 weeks for radiotherapy and the Government had to send many people to Australia for treatment because we didn’t have staffing or equipment or facilities to provide timely treatment here. That was a scandal caused by the former National Government failing to heed warnings that our cancer infrastructure was vulnerable and failing.

"A diagnosis of cancer is distressing not only for the person concerned, but also their family, and any wait for treatment can add to the burden."

Ms King says New Zealand’s cancer infrastructure remains fragile because of the time it takes to train staff, but she is becoming more encouraged and optimistic by the month that long-term improvements are now in place. "We have considerably boosted the numbers of Medical Radiation Technologists (MRTs) in training and new linear accelerator machines are now being provided on a rolling programme.”

Other initiatives the Government has put in place this year include providing $40 million for the first phase of the Cancer Control Strategy Action Plan to cover prevention, screening, treatment, palliative care, support and rehabilitation, and research, the appointment of Dr John Childs to the new position of Principal Advisor, Cancer Control, and appointment of nine members of the newly formed Cancer Control Council.

“At long last New Zealand is taking a strategic, planned approach to fighting cancer. It is one of the hardest jobs we have got, but at least this Government, unlike the previous one, is determined to tackle it.”


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