Ryall pushing earlier cancer target

Last updated 05:00 28/03/2014

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Health Minister Tony Ryall has sought to introduce a new national health target for cancer treatment almost a year earlier than officials are recommending.

The Health Ministry has expressed concern that a rushed introduction of the new target could put patient safety at risk.

The target will aim to have more patients with a high suspicion of cancer receive their first treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral from their GPs.

It's a different measure from the current target, which says patients should receive their first treatment within a month of their first specialist assessment.

In a report from ministry officials to the minister, the new target was chosen out of four possible options.

It was decided the target had only one "con" - that it captures a smaller number of patients. Because the target is focused on patients with a high suspicion of cancer, it excludes those whose cancer was an incidental finding or detected through a screening programme.

The report, released under the Official Information Act, recommends the target come into effect from July 1 next year, but certainly no earlier than January 1.

"The ministry strongly recommends that the 62-day indicator is not introduced as the next cancer health target any earlier than 1 January, 2015, to mitigate the possible impact of unintended consequences, such as DHBs fast-tracking patients to meet a timeframe at the expense of quality care," it said.

A handwritten note from Ryall on the report says: "Can we assess possibility of 1 July 2014?"

Ryall would not comment on the time frame, or confirm that his handwritten note was referring to an introduction date for the new target.

"Any announcements will be made in due course," he said.

"Our top priority is providing faster and better cancer treatment for patients. Over the past six years we have made huge gains, and I think we can do even better."

Labour Party health spokeswoman Annette King said the timing of the new target looked "political".

"My fear would be this is an election target, rather than a realistic target."

If it was going to put more pressure on DHBs, which were cash-strapped and under pressure to perform to Mr Ryall's targets, then other patients would miss out, she said.

However, the target itself may not be a bad thing. "Everybody's in favour of earlier detection, earlier intervention and earlier treatment, particularly with cancer. I'm not denying you wouldn't want the best practice.

"But it is a worry, and a common practice of Ryall to put in political targets rather than practical targets that DHBs can meet."

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- Fairfax Media

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