Health minister needs to help with cancer waiting lists: Melissa Vining

Melissa Vining
Melissa Vining
Southern cancer patients are dying and Health Minister Andrew Little needs to step in and save them, patient advocate Melissa Vining says.

"How many people have to die before anyone takes action?" she asked yesterday.

"I just cannot understand how the SDHB is imploding and no-one is taking immediate action; the response we saw to Covid is what we need right now to treat cancer in the southern region."

Southern District Health Board waiting lists for cancer detection and treatment are at record levels, and 157 people are now waiting for radiation oncology treatment.

The Otago Daily Times understands at least one complaint about harm being caused to a patient due to delays in getting a scan has been lodged in recent days, as well as complaints about delays in receiving first specialist appointments for cancer treatment.

In July last year Ms Vining — the widow of Winton farmer Blair Vining, whose petition for better cancer care sparked the Government to set up Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency — made a presentation on cancer treatment to the SDHB.

At the time she said long waits for treatment were cruel, inhumane and killed people, and yesterday she told the Otago Daily Times that it seemed like nothing had changed.

"It is very sad. Every day I am being contacted by patients and their families and it is the exact same issues I talked about: they are not only dealing with a cancer diagnosis but with these long waits which are causing huge trauma.

"People are actually dying and no-one is doing anything about it. There is a lot of acknowledging, but I just can’t understand why the Government and Minister of Health are standing by and no-one is taking action to resolve it."

Health Minister Andrew Little needed to step up and take immediate action as lives were at stake, Ms Vining said,

"The situation here is outrageous.

"The comments earlier that this is criminal are not an exaggeration, because people quite simply are dying because of this."

Mr Little, who had to fly to Whangarei as soon as Parliament adjourned yesterday, was unable to respond by deadline.

Meanwhile, WellSouth acting medical director Stephen Graham said Otago and Southland GPs were unable to refer directly for most diagnostic scans, so they and their patients with suspected cancers relied on waiting lists not backing up.

"It is painful for everybody involved: the patient, the GP, and I’m sure for the people in the hospital, who are doing their best but are having to deal with resourcing problems."

GPs were often the first people to detect a possible cancer and were frustrated if a potentially treatable problem was not tackled swiftly, Dr Graham said.

"We work in an environment in Southern, and New Zealand to a lesser degree, where access for general practice to scanning is severely limited, to the point where it is almost non-existent."



This is such a kick in the teeth for patients and their families and the staff that are still working their best to see as many patients with the limited resources they have at their disposal.
I was just told last week by my oncology nurse, "After our cancer meeting yesterday we think you need an MRI to ascertain what exactly is going on in your liver scans, but unfortunately the wait time thru public could be up to 5-6 months unless you want to go privately".
Luckily I will find the resources to pay for this scan but there are hundreds who don't or can't.
The system is now in more need of assistance from the Government than every before. Yet all are quiet at the Beehive.
It is unfortunate that it takes a legend like Blair Vining and his lovely family to carry this thing further and really get results at the top end.
I truly hope they sort this out for the future and patients well before this rebuild of services is done. Priorities seem a bit askew.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter