Cancer patients wait more than two months for first treatment

MidCentral District Health Board chief executive Kathryn Cook says the board is working on getting people treated for ...
FAITH SUTHERLAND/FAIRFAX NZ

MidCentral District Health Board chief executive Kathryn Cook says the board is working on getting people treated for cancer faster.

Almost a third of MidCentral District Health Board's new cancer patients are having to wait more than two months to start treatment.

Data from the DHB shows that between April and June, 31 people had to wait longer than 62 days for their first cancer treatment.

The Ministry of Health set the 62-day mark as it aims to speed up the cancer treatment process. The ministry's goal was to have 85 per cent of patients attended to in that timeframe.

But with only 75 out of 106 people – 71 per cent – seen in time, MidCentral failed to hit the target.

The 71 per cent rate was a drop from the previous quarter at 77 per cent.

Cancer Society Central Districts Division chief executive Clare Crawley said any lowering of performance in patient treatment times was concerning.

"Naturally, we are always interested in improving treatment times and outcomes for cancer patients."

MidCentral chief executive Kathryn Cook said they continued to work toward achieving the national target.  

"Several projects are being undertaken to look at improvements that can be made in the referral and treatment pathway so that more eligible patients can receive faster cancer treatment."

Cook said  there had been an increase in the number of people appropriately identified with a high suspicion of cancer at referral.

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Breast cancer survivor Sarah McKelvie found a lump in her armpit and was diagnosed in August 2015.

While sitting in her GP's office, the registrar rang the public hospital to make an appointment for McKelvie, but "nobody picked up", she said.

"They were trying to ring the hospital to book an ultrasound and couldn't get through to anyone."

McKelvie said she was lucky her insurance covered her to get private treatment, otherwise she "might have been waiting around for a while".

Within about three weeks, McKelvie had been tested, diagnosed, and had surgery to remove the lump. 

MidCentral was far from alone in not reaching the national target – not one DHB in the country managed to do so. The national average was 74 per cent.

Whanganui DHB led the country in the latest quarter's performance with an 83 per cent rate. Lakes DHB was the worst  in the country with 56 per cent. By June 2017 the ministry expects 90 per cent of patients to be seen within 62 days.

Crawley said some cases could be complex.

"This, at any one point in the year, can have an impact on the start dates for treatment for a few patients.

"At times, this can have quite an impact on the percentage target for those receiving treatment within 62 days."

She said it was important to understand if the lower rate was caused by this, or if it was due to other factors such as lack of resources.

"If it is due to lack of resources, then as the Cancer Society we would be concerned about that and be advocating to improve the performance for patients." 

The society continued to work with clients to ensure their needs were met.

Crawley noted that the DHB was looking into the reasons for the delays. The society supported MidCentral's initiatives to look at process improvements.

It was an active participant in the Cancer Control Network Group and discussions about faster cancer treatment.

 - Stuff

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