Small dip in cancer diagnoses nationally in Level 4

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Cancer diagnoses dropped 9% during this year’s nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, but how Alert Level 4 affected southern cancer services remains unclear.

Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency, yesterday released a special report on cancer diagnosis and treatment during the August lockdown, work inspired by the drop in the number of patients seen during last year’s first Alert Level 4.

Agency chief executive Diana Sarfati said cancer clinicians had worked hard to ensure that decline in treatment did not happen again, and the small drop of 193 fewer cases reflected that.

"Their dedication and determination are captured in this data," Prof Sarfati said.

"We expect any dip in diagnosis will be caught up, as was the case last year, and it is vital anyone who is experiencing concerning symptoms talk to their doctor."

While the national picture looked reassuring the report, despite including statistics from district health boards across a range of indicators, contained few figures supplied by the Southern District Health Board.

The SDHB reported its performance in only three of 12 categories, prostate cancer surgery (an increase of 23 operations compared to August last year), lung cancer surgery (down 5), and colorectal cancer surgery (down 7).

The board did report that it had an 11% drop in average patient numbers for August, but that its cumulative average patient numbers from January-August had risen 9%, from 1220 to 1324.

Prof Sarfati said that the agency had received the SDHB’s surgical cancer data for its report, but its non-surgical cancer data was excluded because it was incomplete for the period.

“We are actively working with SDHB in partnership with the Ministry of Health to understand the issue and support them submit to the national collections for our next report.”

Earlier this year the SDHB’s radiation oncology waiting list hit a record high of 157 people, and other diagnostic and treatment wait times were being regularly breached.

For some months now the SDHB has been reporting its progress weekly to the agency, reports also received by director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

SDHB medicine, women’s and childrens health general manager Simon Donlevy said the organisation had failed to supply the information to the agency in time due to a computer equipment upgrade.

``The data from the new equipment was missed and therefore not included in the extract. This has been rectified for future reporting periods.''

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