Health Minister David Clark has slammed District Health Boards for keeping cancer patients waiting an "unreasonable" time for radiation treatments.

"I've been advised that far too many New Zealanders are experiencing unreasonable delays in receiving radiation therapy and there is variable performance by DHBs on this," Clark said.

This comes after a Herald investigation showed 11 out of the 20 DHBs were not meeting the Government's Faster Cancer Treatment target - which expects 90 per cent of patients with a high suspicion of cancer to be treated within 62 days of referral.

Wait times for radiation therapy are part of that target.


The Ministry of Health are also collecting a more in-depth measurement of DHBs' delays specifically for radiation with a new initiative called Radiation Oncology Collection. However, this data has not yet been made publicly available.

Clark said he had made his expectations very clear to the Ministry of Health that no patient with cancer should experience these delays in their treatment.

"I've sought urgent advice about how they can work with DHBs to improve the timeliness of radiation therapy.

"I'm now advised the Ministry of Health has contacted DHBs to remind them of their responsibility to ensure New Zealanders with cancer receive treatment quickly," Clark said.

These comments were made at a radiation therapy summit held in Wellington last Thursday by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists - which aimed to address access barriers to potentially life-saving radiation therapy for thousands of New Zealanders.

Clark said the Ministry had asked DHBs to examine their performance in radiation therapy and to come up with a plan to address any shortcomings.

Clark could not comment on when the due date for that was.

He said radiation oncology had a vital role in helping people to fight cancer and is involved in about 40 per cent of all cancer cures.


One in two people diagnosed with cancer are likely to benefit from radiation therapy.

"However, it concerns me to learn that only about a third of these people diagnosed with cancer in New Zealand actually receive radiation therapy.

"This means many people are missing out on potentially life-saving treatment and could suffer worse health outcomes as a result," Clark said.

Radiation oncologist Dr Carol Johnson said with the impact of cancer in New Zealand projected to increase as a result of population growth and ageing, it is vital we improve access to radiation therapy for all cancer patients and are able to meet the increase in demand.

"There are several reasons for the underutilisation of radiation therapy in New
Zealand, including a lack of awareness about radiation therapy, physical access
to a treatment centre – particularly in regional settings – and patients not being
provided with comprehensive information about all possible treatment options," Johnson said.