Health bosses reject cancer therapy claims

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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Waikato's first private chemotherapy treatment centre is about to open its doors.

But initial claims that it will drastically cut the wait time for treatment for those who can afford private healthcare have been labelled "disingenuous" by public health sector bosses, who are standing by their service.

Announcing the new centre, which will open early next year and be based in Braemar Hospital's new day hospital in Hamilton, chief executive Paul Bennett said patients could wait up to 10 weeks for treatment in the public health sector.

He later corrected himself to say "several" weeks after those in the public sector fired up.

"We know there is a strong demand for this kind of service," Mr Bennett said.

"Currently patients face a long wait for treatment or make a trip to Auckland. This creates a huge strain, not only for the patient but also for their family."

Waikato District Health Board chief operating officer Jan Adams said Mr Bennett's inference was that the public health system wasn't providing a good service. "I think it's disingenuous to indicate that we're providing a poor service," she said.

"What I can say is that the public system, within the Waikato, provides an excellent service. We have a lot of trust and confidence in our clinicians."

The Waikato DHB is currently meeting the Government target of 100 per cent of its cancer patients (who are ready for treatment) receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy within four weeks of the decision to treat.

"What [the new centre] provides is a private option for people who wish to have their treatment privately and who don't wish to travel to Auckland.

"There will always be people who choose that option."

Waikato DHB chief executive Craig Climo agreed, saying Waikato people were getting "exceptionally good" cancer services from the public sector and he was proud of the work his clinicians were doing.

With only about a quarter of Kiwis having private health insurance, the cost of going private won't come cheap. Mr Bennett could not give the Waikato Times the specific costs of private treatment, saying it varied depending on the drugs used.

"Some are quite cheap but others are very expensive," he said.

A report in 2005 showed the cost of private chemotherapy could range from $5000 to $150,000. Not all private insurance policies cover full treatment, meaning many patients would have to cover the shortfall.

"We already have people paying out of pocket for surgery now - only 1.4 million have health insurance in New Zealand - so we will expect the same thing to happen for chemotherapy," Mr Bennett said.

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Up to 10 patients can be treated per day in the new centre but that could rise depending on demand. Treatments will include chemotherapy and related supportive care and medical oncology consultation. The centre will be headed by Dr Anna Goodwin, an American oncologist who came to New Zealand three years ago to take up a position as a locum medical oncology consultant at Waikato Hospital.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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