Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark announced yesterday that tranche one of the Government’s cancer plan will be the purchase of 12 Linear Accelerators (LINAC) machines over the next three years. The replacement LINACs will provide radiation treatment in more regions than ever before, ensuring improved treatment and fairer access to cancer care in the provinces.

“A cancer plan that works has to be comprehensive and must include radiation treatment as well as pharmaceuticals and preventative measures,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Radiation is an effective form of cancer treatment, and one in two people with cancer would benefit from its use. But in New Zealand only one in three are currently accessing these services.

“Currently patients from Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki are forced to travel to get the radiation treatment they need. We know others simply don’t travel and miss out on treatment altogether.

“We estimate that as a result of putting state-of-the-art LINACs into areas that have not previously had one, in future 1200 people each year will be able to access radiation treatment locally rather than travelling long distances.

“Tranche one of our cancer response is a first step in reducing regional variations in cancer treatment. Tranche two will involve the release of the Interim Cancer Action Plan later this month,”says Ardern.

New LINACs will be installed this year at Auckland, Canterbury, Capital and Coast and MidCentral DHBs (2 machines). MidCentral is intending to locate a replacement LINAC in Hawkes Bay in 2020/21 and Taranaki the following year.

There will also be support for Southern DHB to get the LINAC it recently purchased up and running faster, and Auckland and Northland DHBs are looking to put a machine in Northland in future.

“Funding for the first five replacement LINACs, which will cost $25 million in total, comes from the $1.7 billion we invested in hospital and health facilities in the Wellbeing Budget,” David Clark said.

“These new LINACs will be better for patients and improve outcomes. They’ll provide cancer treatment faster and will help more people, while causing less damage to healthy tissue.

“The new LINAC machines provide more precise treatment, reducing negative effects such as damage to surrounding tissue, supporting faster recovery time.

“We know for some lung cancers, newer technology can reduce treatment times from as much as six weeks to as little as three days. It can also mean improved life expectancy when every day is precious,” says Clark.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) welcomes the increased investment in radiation oncology equipment.

Chair of RANZCR’s New Zealand Radiation Oncology Executive Committee, Dr Carol Johnson said itis expected that around 22,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year and that this number is likely to continue increasing with the ageing population.  

“We know that Māori and Pacific peoples and those living in rural areas experience poorer health outcomes and access to vital health services.  

“This investment to upgrade radiation oncology equipment means that cancer patients will have access to the latest technology delivering targeted, safe and cost-effective modern cancer treatment.” 

“The life span of a linac is typically 10 years; however, over one-quarter of all linacs in New Zealand are more than 10 years old. A further one-third will be due for replacement over the next three years.” 

Senior doctors’ union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is also welcoming the announcement.

“It will go some way to improving the care available for people living with cancer and their families, and it will be welcome news for hospital specialists who provide cancer treatment,” says ASMS executive director Ian Powell.

“The Government is to be commended for this, as it’s something that should have been done years ago. The next step is to develop a coherent national strategy on cancer.”

However Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges says many cancer sufferers would have been expecting a lot more from the announcement, describing it as “underwhelming”.

“This is little more than business as usual that any government has to do, replacing machines that need replacing,” says Bridges.

“While it’s good that some patients won’t have to travel for treatment, there is no additional funding for more oncologists and radiographers who will be required to carry out the treatment.

“There is still no target for treatment timeliness and no certainty that treatments will be better or faster.”

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