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Minister’s Arrogance Over Breast Cancer Surgeries Unbelievable

“The arrogance of the Labour Government has reached new heights with Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall saying the number of postponed breast cancer surgeries due to COVID-19 is “not in the public interest,” says ACT Deputy Leader and Health spokesperson Brooke van Velden.

“The Ministry of Health does not hold the information. Not only is it in the public interest, it’s in the interest of the Minister to know it.

“On top of the uncounted missed surgeries, there have been 45,000 fewer breast screenings over the past two years because of COVID-19. Breast cancer has touched the lives of too many New Zealanders.

“Lockdowns have taken a massive toll on New Zealanders. We have repeatedly heard about the public health response to COVID, but so many other health issues have taken a back seat. These numbers just prove it.

“The cost of COVID will haunt us for decades, financially, emotionally and with our health and education.

“Ayesha Verrall needs to outline what she plans to do to play catch up on these screenings. We need a plan, otherwise women will be undiagnosed, and more lives will be lost to this treatable disease.

“I’m calling on Verrall to do her job, count the number of missed surgeries because of her Government’s lockdown and give us a plan to get through the other health crisis New Zealand is now facing, treating people whose health care was put on hold for COVID.”

Written Parliamentary Questions:

Portfolio: Health (Associate - Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall)
Question: How many breast cancer surgeries were postponed in the first half of 2021 due to unavailability of operating theatres, if any, and what proportion of the delays does the Minister attribute to the lack of theatre availability or what are the other reasons for delays?
Reply: I am advised that the Ministry of Health does not hold this information. The information may be held by individual district health boards (DHBs). As the Member will be aware, workload volumes across the health and disability sector have increased significantly in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak. Providing the Member with this information would require the Ministry of Health and DHBs to undertake a substantial manual collation exercise and divert staff from their core duties. In accordance with Speaker’s Ruling 185-6, I consider that the time, and hence the expense, of answering this part of the Member’s questions is not in the public interest.

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Portfolio: Health (Associate - Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall)
Question: How many breast cancer screenings and diagnostic appointments, if any, have been postponed during the Level 3 and Level 4 lockdown this year?
Reply: At Alert Level 4, routine breast screening was paused and screening appointments were delayed. The Level 4 period in 2021 was approximately two weeks for most of the country with Auckland continuing for another four weeks. Screening resumed under Alert Level 3, with reduced appointment volumes due to extra physical distancing and cleaning requirements to support a safe environment for women and staff. Breast screening coverage is calculated across a two-year period because that is the screening interval. The latest coverage figures to September 2021 for the previous two year period shows approximately 45,000 less screens performed than the two-year period ending September 2019. The impact of COVID-19 is assumed to be the primary contributor to this difference. The COVID-19 impact may include the impact from any pause in service delivery, reduced appointment slots, and women choosing not to enrol or delay appointments. During lockdowns results from screening tests were still processed, and where women had abnormalities detected on their screening mammogram, they were referred to BreastScreen Aotearoa Assessment Clinics for further investigation. BSA Assessment Clinics continued under Alert Level 4 and 3.

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