Cancer treatment overhaul: Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Northland to get new radiation machines

Cancer patients in the regions will soon be able to access radiation therapy without having to travel into city centres.

The Government has announced that as tranche one of its cancer plan, it will buy 12 Linear Accelerators (LINAC) machines over the next three years, replacing half the radiation machines in New Zealand.

The Auckland, Canterbury, Capital and Coast DHBs will each receive a machine. MidCentral DHB will get two, with the aim of finding a replacement LINAC for Hawke's Bay in 2020 or 2021, and one for Taranaki the following year.

Auckland and Northern DHBs want to install a LINAC in Northland in the future, and Southern DHB will be supported to get its new LINAC up and running more efficiently.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's the single largest government capital investment ever made in radiation therapy, and will make a "real difference" to cancer sufferers across the country.

"A cancer plan that works has to be comprehensive and must include radiation treatment as well as pharmaceuticals and preventative measures," she says.

"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."

She says the previous Government's long-term underfunding of the healthcare system left DHBs with ageing radiation machines that don't function as well as they used to, with no money to replace them.

The issue of 'postcode cancer' has been brought to light recently, in which Kiwis who live in areas with under-resourced DHBs have a higher chance of getting cancer and a lower rate of being able to get it checked.

The Government's cancer plan intends to reduce these regional variations in cancer treatment, Ardern says.

"This investment is also about ensuring people living in regional New Zealand can access high-quality cancer care - and new technology is a big part of that," she says.

"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."

The Government estimates that giving new LINACs to regions that previously had none will help 1200 people each year to access radiation treatment locally.

The first five replacement LINACs will cost $25 million in total, paid for out of the $1.7 billion allocated for the health sector in May's Wellbeing Budget.

Health Minister David Clark says the new machines will improve patient outcomes.

"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.

"Today's announcement is a clear demonstration of our commitment to delivering a consistently high level of cancer care nationwide."

The Government will release its Interim Cancer Action Plan later this month.