Southland man denied a colonoscopy now dying of bowel cancer

The Government has been working on an announcement on cancer care, but National's gazumped them in responding to Blair Vining's calls for a National Cancer Agency.

Vining is from Southland, one of the worst areas in the country for cancer care. He's desperate to fix the problem, but it's too late for him - and one of his mates. 

Paul Cosgrove has been caught out by the cancer care crisis.

"It's too late for me now, probably," he told Newshub. 

The man, who friends call 'Cossie', has wanted a colonoscopy to check for bowel cancer for a year. He was declined. The pain got worse - then came the bad news.

"They found straight away I had bowel cancer, and they did the scans and they found it had mutated into my liver and into my lungs," Cosgrove says. "That was only four weeks ago, so here I am."

A Southlander through and through, Cosgrove played 40 games of rugby for the province - but the Southern District Health Board's (DHBs) inability to deal with bowel cancer might finish him off.

"I'm quite angry about it," he says.

His inability to get a colonoscopy means he missed the chance to catch the cancer early. It's an example of what's known as 'postcode cancer' - when where you live, defines the level of care you get.

"We are so far back, we are like bloody third world," Cosgrove says. 

The sad facts are these: If you live in Southland, you have a higher chance of getting bowel cancer. But there's a lower rate of being able to get it checked. 

When Cosgrove was coaching the Southland Colts, Vining was on his team. 

"As a coach he was a real good bugger," he says of Cosgrove.

Vining is now dying of bowel cancer. One of his final goals is a National Cancer Agency.

"We need to get rid of that postcode lottery of where you live," he says. 

At the moment, cancer care is divided across New Zealand's 20 DHBs. Each has different resources and standards of care. You might wait just two weeks to see an oncologist in Auckland, but up to eight weeks in other parts of the country.

A National Cancer Agency would administer cancer care for everyone.

"A blanket standard for everyone," Vining explains. "Then we have done our job."

Critics say it would be another layer of bureaucracy, but Cancer Society medical director Chris Jackson says the idea could work. 

"We need to make sure resources are pooled and New Zealanders get access to the same high quality of care, no matter who they are or where they live." 

Blair and his wife Missy's petition for the agency has attracted 141,000 signatures to date.

"Everyone deserves a fighting chance when they get this news," Missy says. "That's all New Zealanders want, is a fair chance at survival."

But for Cosgrove, that chance appears to have been taken from him.

Southern DHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar declined to comment.

"Without reviewing his particular case in detail, I couldn't answer that question specifically, but obviously, what an awful thing to happen." 

"The Government is committed to quality cancer care no matter where people live, and there will be announcements in the coming weeks," said a spokesperson for Health Minister David Clark.

And for Vining, there are other goals too. 

"If I keep setting goals, the next goal is my daughter's 13th birthday in September.  September 9th." 

So little time, so much to do.