Dr Chris Jackson briefing to Epidemic Response Committee
Transcript of Dr Chris Jackson, Cancer Society Medical Director briefing to Epidemic Response Committee. 6 May 2020.
Our thanks to the committee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Cancer Society of NZ and the 24,000 Kiwis affected by cancer each year.
The lockdown has kept people with cancer and vulnerable immune systems safe. They have been spared the serious or fatal harms of infection. This has to date been a success.
However there have been many hardships. Supply chain disruption has led to delays in some people receiving their medicines.
Those in hospital have not been able to have support people present making one of the most stressful experiences of a lifetime more distressing. People who live in Gisborne but who receive treatment in Waikato have been unable to return home during the weekends of their sometimes 7-week long treatments, separated from whanau support. Many would have given up on treatment were it not for the wrap-around support provided. The casualties would be appearing already without this.
The Cancer Society’s volunteer driver service has been kneecapped as volunteers over 70 have had to stay home. The Govt Wage Subsidy has provided short term respite but all charities worry about the impact of a recession on charitable donations which are our lifeblood. The Cancer Society’s extensive supportive care network has transitioned to online delivery where we can, but it is far from business as usual. People who have needed physical care or the support of friends or relatives outside of their bubbles have struggled.
PHARMAC have abandoned plans to fund an effective lung cancer drug because of global price uncertainty, but an opportunity lost to prolong lives and relieve suffering from our number one cancer killer and a major problem for Māori and our challenge to achieve equity in cancer outcomes.
The National Cancer Agency has been a beacon, bringing together clinicians from around the country in a way we have never seen before. This has meant that people receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or treatment for blood cancer, have been able to continue to receive cancer treatment, and there has been a consistent approach. This success is a tribute to the Agency and to the clinicians involved in the response.
There have been 30% fewer cancers diagnosed over the lockdown. People have not been to see their GPs, observing the lockdown too well. Screening has been appropriately paused and will recommence. There have been fewer scans, colonoscopies, endoscopies, biopsies, and tests. This means fewer cancers have been detected. It is the same or similar the world over during a lockdown.
Now, the health system must catch up or people will face delayed diagnosis, and lives will be lost as a result. Prior to COVID, the health system was already stretched. If we want to catch up, who will miss out, or will there be extra capacity? Evening and weekend clinics, more scans, and judicious use of the private sector. There will need to be additional funding to make this happen. The support charities provide must not be forgotten, as the recession bites and funding dries up.
Now is our opportunity to act to ensure that the lives we have saved from COVID are not lost to cancer.