Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have been given hope with the Government's unveiling of a national cancer agency to end postcode lottery care.

Advocacy groups have overall welcomed the announcement of the agency, with some saying it's New Zealand's biggest ever change for cancer care and one that would go down in history for a long time.

Health Minister David Clark promised the Cancer Control Agency would be in full swing by December 1 and would be led by clinical cancer specialists who would report directly to him.

In the interim, world-leading public health physician and cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati has been appointed national director of the agency, starting immediately.

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A $60 million funding boost into Pharmac was also announced.

Newly appointed Cancer Control director world-leading public health physician and cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Newly appointed Cancer Control director world-leading public health physician and cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director Chris Jackson, who has worked closely with Sarfati and Clark on the plan, said the new group would be "the people's agency".

"We want it to be as transparent as possible. They will be reporting to the people and sometimes that's uncomfortable but that's how we will get improvement," Jackson said.

Chris Jackson, Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Chris Jackson, Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

The "significant milestone" comes after a powerful public movement, led by terminally ill dad Blair Vining, calling for change. More than 140,000 signed a petition calling for an agency to hold District Health Boards to account.

The Government's 10-year cancer plan, announced yesterday afternoon at Auckland City Hospital's oncology ward, included:

• Cancer Control Agency to abolish postcode lottery and hold DHBs to account.

• A $60m funding boost to Pharmac; $20m this year and $40m in 2020/21.

• A new system to fast-track Pharmac's drug-funding decision process.

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• Equitable cancer survival rates across New Zealand by 2030 - including across geographic areas and across ethnicities.

• A focus on consistent and modern cancer care; equitable survival outcomes; fewer cancers and better cancer survival overall.

Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Evangelia Henderson said the plan was "robust, comprehensive and showed a real commitment for improvement".

"That is the first time we have heard from this Government that New Zealanders deserve world-class treatment, so that was wonderful to hear," Henderson said.

Bowel Cancer NZ spokeswoman Mary Bradley said it was a step in the right direction but the real work was still to come.

 Bowel Cancer NZ spokeswoman Mary Bradley. Photo / File
Bowel Cancer NZ spokeswoman Mary Bradley. Photo / File

"It's all really exciting news but we want to make sure we see an agency that really empowers change for bowel cancer patients."

Bradley said it was disappointing the national bowel screening programme had not been "ramped out" as it was taking far too long and needed to be better prioritised.

New Zealand Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said it was a "landmark" beginning when it comes to addressing this significant issue for all New Zealanders, in particular Māori.

"I am also pleased to see that we have a 10-year plan – it will take that long to really get things under control and include further planning around infrastructure investment in the regions. But this is an excellent start."

However, not everyone agreed. Lung Foundation chief executive Philip Hope said there was nothing significant for lung cancer patients.

"I was disappointed we had no input with the plan.

"We have had good lung cancer standards for the last three years but no treatment. No new drugs for lung cancer patients, which was a real shame.

"Every week, 28 lung cancer patients die. That's not good enough," Hope said.

Māori cancer outcomes would be one of the first priorities as Māori have higher rates of cancer and poorer survival rates overall. Funding decisions will be made with an "equity first" methodology, the plan says.

For example, the national bowel screening programme, which is still being rolled out, makes screening free for people aged 60-74.

But, because Māori people tend to develop bowel cancer at an earlier age, the plan suggests the screening programme could be made free for Māori 10 years earlier, between the ages of 50-74.

Terminally ill Southland father Blair Vining and his wife Melissa at Government's unveiling of the Cancer Control agency. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Terminally ill Southland father Blair Vining and his wife Melissa at Government's unveiling of the Cancer Control agency. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

The plan also highlighted improved detection and management of Hepatitis A, B and C, reducing HIV transmission, increasing the uptake of the HPV vaccine and addressing Helicobacter pylori infection in priority populations.

Skin cancer would also be a target, with promotion of sun safety - particularly among children - and sunscreen would also be regulated as a therapeutic product, the plan said.

A programme would also be developed to prevent work-related cancers such as ensuring people exposed to asbestos are not being put at risk.

"Quality performance indicators" would be introduced under the plan to ensure specific cancers were being diagnosed and treated consistently across New Zealand.

Bowel cancer had been used as a test case for QPIs with the first results published for diagnosis and treatment in March this year. The report uncovered huge disparities between in bowel cancer treatment between each DHB.

By early 2020, prostate, lung and neuro-endocrine tumours will also have similar reports published.