Pressure on Govt over cancer plan

Health Minister David Clark. Photo: ODT files
Health Minister David Clark. Photo: ODT files
The Government is under growing pressure to commit to its pre-election promise to establish an independent agency to tackle cancer.

Nearly a month has passed since Health Minister David Clark was due to announce a plan to combat New Zealand's biggest killer.

Advocates say people are dying because of the ongoing "unacceptable'' delay.

Cancer kills about 9500 New Zealanders a year. Failures in treatment have been laid bare in a series of a investigations.

They revealed hundreds of cancer sufferers received large taxpayer-funded payouts after being let down by the public health system.

More than $15 million has been paid out in the past five years after patients were misdiagnosed, or diagnosed too late.

Since April, The New Zealand Herald has made more than a dozen requests to interview Dr Clark about the Government's strategy for treating cancer and helping patients.

Each one has been ignored or declined.

Reasons, given through a member of his communications team, include: "The minister will be talking about it in due course'' and "the plan remains under consideration''.

On Monday, Dr Clark was asked by email what details were still under consideration, the reason for the delays, if he had read the plan, if an agency had been ruled out as suggested by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier in the month, the number of Ministry of Health staff within the cancer advisory group, why it had taken six months to come up with a plan and if he could indicate when the plan would be announced.

Despite not directly answering each question, Dr Clark said he expected the ministry to give him the interim cancer action plan by the end of June - and it did.

"This is the first substantial refresh of our national cancer action plan since it was put in place by the last Labour government. It will build on the good work achieved since then.

"A focus of the plan is to ensure consistency around national access to all services - prevention, treatment and management - and to ensure this work is conducted under strong effective central leadership. I anticipate making an announcement on this soon.

"Given the importance of this work, it requires careful consideration before it is released for consultation with the cancer-care sector and the public.''

Ms Ardern was approached for comment but did not respond.

Opposition health spokesman Michael Woodhouse has criticised Dr Clark for taking so long to produce the plan.

"He now calls it an 'interim plan' and there is no word on when it will be released or what consultation will be followed,'' Mr Woodhouse said yesterday.

The growing public pressure includes New Zealand's biggest cancer petition.

More than 150,000 people have backed calls for an independent agency. The petition is being presented to Parliament today by Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker.

The petition was started by Southland father Blair Vining, who was told to wait eight weeks for an "urgent appointment'' with an oncologist after being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director and Dunedin oncologist Chris Jackson said a cancer plan was a hugely significant piece of work that would affect thousands of New Zealanders.

"We prefer that it is done right rather than rushed,'' he said.

 

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