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All New Zealanders To Have Same Cancer Drugs

ALL New Zealanders will be entitled to the same cancer drugs and other non-surgical cancer services irrespective of where they live, the Ministry of Health says.

Non-surgical cancer treatments are radiation oncology (radiotherapy), medical oncology and haematology (chemotherapy).

"For some time we have been aware that there are discrepancies in some parts of the country as to what medicines are provided free of charge. However we believe as a matter of principle that access to the most appropriate medicines should be equitable across the country," Chief Medical Advisor Dr Colin Feek said.

The change is one of the recommendations in a report to the Ministry of Health on improving cancer services in New Zealand. Covering all aspects of treatment for cancer patients - with the exception of surgery - it mandates a number of changes to ensure equity of access.

"It is essential that cancer treatment services are structured in such as way that all patients, irrespective of where they live, can expect to be assessed by a specialist oncologist and to have access to all appropriate treatments," Dr Feek said.

"This should be as close to the patient's home as practicable."

The report draws on the work of three specialist working parties who reviewed radiation oncology, medical oncology and haematology. It also took into account the palliative care strategy made public in February this year.

It recommends that New Zealand should retain six regional cancer centres providing non-surgical cancer care in the main centres, working closely together and overseeing treatment in designated secondary care hospitals.

Regional cancer centres should also take an active role in co-ordinating care with the primary and secondary services which provide other aspects of cancer management.

Dr Feek said a single working party drawn from the three review groups would now oversee a five-year plan identifying the requirements for reliable, equitable and clinically acceptable access to cancer treatment services.

"Ensuring equity of access is the first step. Beyond that we need a process for evaluating and introducing new cancer drugs, treatments and technologies within the public health system, we need better information, we need to look at research and clearly we need to address staffing issues."

To complement this work the Ministry of Health is also planning a review of surgical services for people with cancer, working with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

ends

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