Terminally ill man demands reform of New Zealand's cancer plan

A Southland man and his wife say they have been failed by the healthcare system, after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Blair Vining and his wife Melissa spoke at the Cancer at a Crossroads conference in Wellington on Thursday, where they told Health Minister David Clark he had "failed" them and other New Zealanders for not having a cancer plan.   

They said Blair is not the only person who has been failed by fragmented District Health Boards, long wait periods and no cancer plan.

On the 27th of October, Blair went to A&E due to breathlessness and a sore leg. Hours later he was told he had cancer and it was terminal.

The couple heard doctors outside Blair's hospital room discussing his cancer - bowel, liver, lung, lymph nodes. 

But they weren't told their treatment options. Instead, they were told it would be a week for a specialist, but not to worry because they would get the same treatment options, public or private.

"We trusted those doctors, and they didn't think they were lying. They said we would see a specialist in one week," said his wife.

On the 3rd of November the couple received a letter - sorry, but it's not a week. It's six to eight weeks.

Once they saw a specialist, Melissa says the news was heart-breaking.

"The prognosis was stage 4. Cancer that has spread to all parts of your liver doesn't get cured.  No surgery, no immunotherapy, can't give him my liver. No cure. No plans for after the end of January. No growing old together."

Blair began to write a bucket list, some easy and some not so much.

 He wanted to renew his vows with his wife, play a last game of rugby with his mates, and he wanted a new cancer plan for New Zealand, so that other New Zealander's won't have to suffer in the same way Blair and his family are suffering.

Melissa had some sobering words for Health Minister David Clark, who was attending the conference.

"Minister of Health, it is great to see you here today," she said "However, you have failed Blair. You have failed me and my children and you have failed many other New Zealanders' by not having a cancer plan."

Mr Clark says he agrees the plan has lapsed, and needs improvement. He says the Ministry of Health will take steps to ensure a better plan for cancer care, starting this week.

"The central strand of this work will be the development of new cancer action plan - with the bold goal of achieving equity of outcomes as a priority," he told the room "We are going to start building this plan with you all at this conference and in workshops this Saturday."

Doctor Chris Jackson, a practicing oncologist and medical director of the Cancer Society says the system is increasingly fragmented, as separate DHB's operate independently. 

Some DHBs have access to better technology, and those resources need to be equal. 

"We need strong central leadership, and we need change. Individual DHB's do their own thing, and we can't have that in a small country," he told Newshub" We need to pool the expertise and the resources. All of New Zealand needs access to the same technology no matter where they are."

As well as the fragmented DHBs, he says people are being diagnosed too late, and waiting too long for treatment.

"Every day I see people that have waited too long. We need change now because people are suffering now."

Melissa Vine says although she will lose her husband, she will not stop fighting for change.

"Blair may only be here a few more months. I may be a widow before I am forty...he most likely will not see NZ get a cancer plan.

But I will not rest, I will not be quiet until his bucket item list gets ticked off and New Zealand has the cancer plan they deserve."