BCAC tells Minister of Health urgent action is needed to ensure effective treatment for women with breast cancer
A team from BCAC met this week with the Minister of Health, the Hon. Tony Ryall, and highlighted the urgent need to address New Zealand’s desperate shortage of medical oncologists at three of the six cancer treatment centres around the country.
BCAC chair, Libby Burgess, says Mr Ryall was very receptive to the issues we raised. He is clearly committed to ensuring his policy of “better, sooner, more convenient” healthcare is extended to breast cancer patients.
She says BCAC focused on three key issues in its meeting with Mr Ryall. These were:
- the shortage of medical oncologists to provide effective chemotherapy for New Zealand cancer patients
- more timely cancer treatment, particularly in the areas of chemotherapy and surgery
- the need to regionally extend and fund New Zealand’s Breast Cancer Registers to capture data about breast cancer.
Libby says the serious shortage of trained medical oncologists in some areas means patients are currently being forced to wait longer than the recommended times to receive chemotherapy and in some cases treatment is not being provided.
She says oncologists in the country’s cancer treatment centres are under enormous pressure, especially in the Midlands, MidCentral and Capital and Coast areas.
Says Libby, “Urgent action is required now to provide relief to stressed medical oncologists and their teams so that patients can receive optimal care. Longer-term strategies are also needed to secure the future of our cancer services.”
BCAC recommended a number of measures to the Minister to address this issue, including:
- incentives for trainees to remain in NZ
- incentives for overseas-based oncologists to return to NZ
- increasing remuneration for oncologists in this country.
BCAC also stressed the need for timely access to treatment. The committee congratulated the Minister on recent improvements in access to radiation therapy for cancer patients.
Nearly all cancer patients who require radiotherapy are now receiving treatment within four weeks.
BCAC suggested that targets also be introduced for chemotherapy and surgery to ensure women receive timely treatment in these areas as well.
However, the committee acknowledged that such treatment targets may put additional pressure on our already stressed medical oncology and surgery teams, but emphasised the need for DHBs to prioritise the allocation of resources in these areas.
BCAC raised a number of other issues with the Minister, including a suggestion that the subsidies provided for wigs and prostheses be increased.