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New linac for cancer treatment at CCDHB

Hon Tony Ryall
Minister of Health

31 October 2011


New linac for cancer treatment at CCDHB

Thank you for inviting me to celebrate the new Varian TrueBeam radiotherapy linear accelerator machine.

I am told that this particular multi-million dollar machine is the first Varian TrueBeam radiotherapy linear accelerator in Australasia and the first of its kind to treat patients in the Southern Hemisphere.

This is one of ten new cancer radiation machines approved under this John Key government. And it's part of our comprehensive plan for better treatment for cancer patients which we put into action in late 2008.

At this point I would especially like to acknowledge the local Wellington people involved in this very much needed project

* Chair of the DHB - Dr Virginia Hope
* CEO - Mary Bonner
* Clinical leader of radiation oncology - Dr Carol Johnson
* Operations Director Cancer Services - Dr Andrew Simpson
* And all of the staff involved in this very important public health service.

There are some amazing features about this multi-million dollar piece of equipment both from the clinician's perspective and for patients.

I'm told that the exterior has been designed with BMW - and it is easy to operate, and is extremely precise.

It is so precise that it measures when the patient is breathing in and out, and then delivers the radiation beam when the patient is most still ... between breaths. This means a startlingly more accurate radiation beam on the site being treated, and less damage to surrounding tissue.

And for the patients, the software designed with Apple means that you can bring your iPod and plug it in to the machine treating you!

Not that it will get in the way of the clinicians - they can override the music being chosen to give instructions or provide information.

One of the Government's six Health Targets is shorter waiting times for cancer patients needing radiation treatment.

Of all the Health targets - and they are all important - the Cancer Treatment Target is the one New Zealanders speak to me most about.

New Zealanders worry about cancer. And they worry about waiting for treatment if they are diagnosed.

They worry about their loved ones waiting.

In the year we came to office New Zealand patients frequently waited 12 or even 15 weeks to begin their radiation treatment. And you will remember the bitter sweet stories of patients going to Australia for their cancer treatment because New Zealand did not have the available capacity.

Within months of the election, we set a new National Health Target that all patients ready for radiation treatment would receive that care within six weeks by the end of 2010. It was a real stretch. But our six cancer centres did it.

And this is why not one New Zealander has been sent for cancer radiation treatment in Australia since late 2008.

And then at the start of this year we tightened the target to four weeks. The world gold standard. And again, the cancer centers and their teams stepped up for patients, and achieved that new pledge to patients.

Even in the aftermath of the February earthquake, Canterbury was able to treat all it's patients bar one within four weeks ... and that patient was only three days over the four weeks.

DHBs have secured more cancer centre staff but have also invested in this priority area ... ten new linear accelerators have been acquired since the change of government. It has been the most substantial upgrade of cancer equipment in many, many years. DHBs have also been ably supported by the private cancer centres in Auckland and Christchurch.

I am sure you too will see today's celebration as not only the opening of a machine, but will see this as also representing the many lives that will benefit from Capital and Coast DHB reliably delivering the front line cancer treatment patients really need and deserve.

The John Key government has strongly supported the public health service. More patients are getting care, sooner. We've employed 2000 extra nurses and 800 extra doctors in public hospitals.

In our first term, with respect to cancer services alone this Government has:

* introduced funding for a 12 month course of the breast cancer drug Herceptin
* introduced a bowel cancer screening programme which the previous government promised for years
* approved ten new linear accelerator radiation machines (includes additional and replacement)
* reduced maximum waiting times for radiation cancer treatment to the world gold standard of four weeks
* increased publicly funded chemotherapy clinics 25%
* funded new medicines for advanced lung and kidney cancers, and
* introduced new lung cancer treatment standards including a maximum waiting time from GP referral to first treatment.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the staff in person for the extra effort and extra shifts you did to ensure patients continued to receive timely treatment while the department was replacing the linear accelerator and had reduced capacity.

This extra work would have disrupted some of your family life but I know that you consider it part of your professional commitment to your patients. Thank you again.

And congratulations to the DHB board on replacing the linear accelerator in a timely manner, ensuring that the health target performance of 100 per cent was maintained while this machine was installed.

The Government is committed to ensuring cancer patients receive cancer radiation treatment at the best time.

It's something I take very seriously as the Minister of Health - I monitor cancer radiation waiting times on a weekly basis. The senior leadership team of the Ministry and I discuss them every week. That's how important we view getting this right for patients.

In the next few weeks the National Party government will outline the next steps in improving cancer treatment waiting times here in New Zealand. We've made a lot of progress but there is always more work to do.

Thank you again and best wishes for the new linac.


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