An alliance of prominent cancer non-governmental organisations has challenged Health Minister Jonathan Coleman on his stance that New Zealand has “a health system that is the envy of the world”.
CANGO, an alliance of nine cancer NGOs, has hit back at the Minister.
“Our health system in general is certainly superior to that of many countries, but we are seriously lagging behind in some areas and the Minister seems to be oblivious to that,” said CANGO chair Graeme Woodside.
CANGO hosted Dr Coleman, leader of the ACT Party David Seymour and Labour’s associate spokesperson for health Dr David Clark in Wellington on Tuesday night where CANGO asked all political parties to commit to cancer prevention, and improvements in diagnosis, treatment, research and survivorship as key components of health policies.
Dr Coleman was asked what he was going to do to improve delivery and consistency of cancer treatments throughout DHBs. His response riled many of the CEOs in the room.
“If we stand back and go to something like the WHO where I was two months ago you’ll realise we have a health system that’s the envy of the world and I think we need to have that perspective when we get into the very important but deep weeds of some of these debates. We’re actually doing well,” said Dr Coleman.
Mr Woodside said New Zealand “was seriously lagging behind in the cancer space”.
“Australia, for example, has had access to a number of drugs we still don’t have access to and that’s simply not good enough,” said Mr Woodside.
“People are experiencing serious delays to treatment and some are dying unnecessarily because our health system is failing them. Kiwis don’t have access to the screening or treatment programmes that other countries offer and the fact that our Minister doesn’t seem to recognise that is concerning.”
The latest figures show New Zealand is 24th out of the 35 OECD countries in terms of deaths from cancer. New Zealand has 210 people out of every 100,000 die of cancer each year. Australia has 187 per 100,000.*
Dr Coleman said there was no question the cancer burden is growing, which was why National had committed to rolling out a number of initiatives around the country including the bowel cancer screening programme.
“It’s important that we stick with a plan that means we’re not only managing the economy but we’re providing services that people need as well,” said Dr Coleman.
Mr Woodside said targets have helped see some people treated faster but that wasn’t consistent throughout the country.
In response to Labour’s announcement that it would open a cancer agency if elected, Mr Woodside said that while CANGO applauded the intention to place a greater focus on cancer, he was concerned that “another level of bureaucracy isn’t the answer to the cancer burden”.
“We need to see delivery – not another agency clipping the ticket.”
CANGO was formed in 2007 and is an alliance of prominent New Zealand cancer charities including: Breast Cancer Foundation NZ; Bowel Cancer New Zealand; Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand; New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation; Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand; Unicorn Foundation New Zealand; Melanoma New Zealand; Lung Foundation New Zealand; and the Cancer Society of New Zealand.
New Zealand’s aging population means that the incidence of cancer is growing exponentially, and over 65s have the highest rate of cancers requiring treatment. The effects are far reaching – from the impact on the patient, their families and friends, to the providers, the budget and broader economy.
Mr Woodside said: “CANGO’s purpose is to collaborate with cancer charities, and lobby the Government strategically especially in election years. More than 22,000 New Zealanders will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and it’s the country’s single biggest cause of death. One in three cancer patients will be cured, but we want to see that statistic improved through better research and treatment, and more education about cancer prevention”.
From ensuring all New Zealanders have access to diagnosis, care and treatment to addressing disparities in care for Maori, access for rural communities, and responding to the rapidly changing environment by ensuring faster decision making by PHARMAC, CANGO will be lobbying unashamedly until the election.
CANGO is seeking increased investment in clinical trials to address ongoing needs of cancer survivors and the aging population. Another of CANGO’s focuses is reducing modifiable risk factors – ensuring New Zealanders eat healthy and balanced diets, and participate in regular exercise.
“We won’t be shying away from asking the tough questions,” said Mr Woodside.
“New Zealand needs broad, robust and achievable cancer strategies.”