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The cost of cancer

Written By: - Date published: 12:55 pm, November 9th, 2015 - 39 comments
Categories: health, journalism - Tags: , ,

Most of us know someone affected or killed by cancer. Which is what makes the issue of treatment personal to all of us:

Cancer – the cost of a life: ‘I don’t believe people should have to beg for their lives’

The number of New Zealanders with cancer is rising steadily – as is the number of desperate patients who have resorted to asking strangers to help pay for expensive treatments that could save their lives.

This year, more than 20,000 people will have a cancer diagnosis registered, and about 9000 will die. For some, the cost of treatment that could increase their chance of survival can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and is simply unaffordable.

The number of people turning to crowd-funding sites like Givealittle is increasing. This year alone, more than 650 appeals have been started by patients, or their friends and family, who have nowhere else to turn to when seeking non-taxpayer-funded medicines or other support. …

When people are turning in these numbers to crowd-funding for treatment something is seriously, seriously wrong. (The TPPA, which is going to increase costs to Pharmac, isn’t going to help matters any either.) What is the government going to do?

This is the first of a 5 part series on cancer in The Herald. More good investigative journalism, on top of Kirsty Johnston’s excellent 3 parter on education last week. Bravo!

39 comments on “The cost of cancer”

  1. David Scott 1

    What is the Govt going to do?

    Nothing. Nada. Zip.

    Why would they? They all have fantastic private health insurance. The rest of us don’t matter because in National’s world only the rich and powerful deserve to live.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Southern District Health Board underfunding was costing lives under the last Labour Govt as well. All our political parties buy into the same economic and monetary regime which hamstrings the country.

  2. One Anonymous Bloke 2

    The incidence of cancers is expected to increase with the age of the population, increased life expectancy, and as treatments of other ailments get more effective (part of the reason for increased life expectancy).

    That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t look after people. The most obvious thing that’s going ‘wrong’ is right wing dogma infecting the body politic and the consequent vandalism of the welfare state.

  3. mac1 3

    I am about to begin a course of radiation for a prostate cancer on Thursday, after surgery five years ago was ultimately unsuccessful.

    I have had CT scans, bone scans, MRI scans, another cancer treated and the State will pay for accommodation, travel and all treatment for the next seven weeks.

    I have nothing to complain about. My treatment has been rapid, comprehensive and fully funded.

    If there is a shortfall in treatments, then I am unaware of them; but, knowing the full severity of being a cancer sufferer, then I am distressed and angered that all have not received what I have received by way of treatment for this disease.

    • r0b 3.1

      Good luck Mac1.

    • ilicit 3.2


      Had chemo and radiology last year with no effect. It’s now spread to my liver.

      BUT, I am aware that some treatments will halt my death for a period of time, however, our Government doesn’t much care !

      Already it’s been shown that District Health Boards are well underfunded for even simple surgery etc., why should they worry about people they can take off their books.

      We simply show up in the wrong column for the “privileged” of our own country, so they treat us as “write offs”, every business has a write off policy.

      In this case, it’s humans that are written off !!!!!!!!!!!!

    • ianmac 3.3

      Sorry to hear that Mac1. I have had 3 biopsies over the years and oh the relief when in spite of high erratic PSA readings, I am OK.
      Best wishes.
      PS.I put my bit in to remind men to get it checked. The checking is so minor but very important.

      • Rosemary McDonald 3.3.1

        When asked to do a prostate check( the glove fingy), a senior urologist at our local hospital said…”I’ll have you know that 80% of urologists never have their prostate checked…you die with prostate cancer, not of it.”

        Then this…http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/273020/prostate-cancer-survival-rates-in-nz-grim

        came up on Natrad.


        • mac1

          Rosemary Mac, I’ve had at least two friends die of prostate cancer. My chances are 80% (tops) of a complete cure. If I did nothing, my median survival age would be thirteen years. Half would die before the 13 years and half live longer.

          Early detection, as ianmac refers above, is very important. Digital and PSA checks are so important to get treatment before it gets advanced.

          Yon urologist is right, in most cases………………..

          • Rosemary McDonald

            The man had a thriving private practice…saving his wealthy and insured patients from certain death, incontinence and impotence with his skill as a diagnostician and surgeon.

            On the other hand, there are a significant number of patients who encountered this professional through the Public Health system.

            Some are in the end stages of cancer. Others have had their health and lives ruined by incompetent treatment.

            What can one say? This is a true case of a doctor having avid fans in his Private Practice and grieving relatives of his public patients calling for blood.

            This is the NZ we live in.

            • ianmac

              It is true Rosemary, that for some with prostate cancer it is sometimes best to do nothing. This is a balance though covering the age of the patient (if you were say 75 you are more likely to die of other causes), the type of cancer ( some types of prostate cancer are very aggressive, some are slow to evolve), the health of the patient, and the downside of surgery.
              Mac1 said he was to undergo radiation and I heard somewhere that a few Health Boards offer a sort of radiation as a much less invasive treatment. And as Mac1 says an 80% cure rate.

  4. northshoredoc 4

    OAB is correct in saying that we have more people, living longer and more screening leading to more people presenting with cancers.

    We could throw every last cent of the countries funds at Vote Health and still be crying out for more. Certainly there are specific medicines for certain cancers that we would like to have available now and which would make a substantial difference to patients lives, however, their will be infectious disease/hepatic specialists saying the same thing about antivirals for Hep C and the list goes on.

    PHARMAC’s job is not one that I would envy.

    What I can say with some certainty is that for patients with cancer in NZ the level of care and resource and the outcomes they can expect is better than it was 5 years ago and light years ahead of 20 years ago.

  5. Tracey 5

    “When people are turning in these numbers to crowd-funding for treatment something is seriously, seriously wrong.”

    Maybe everyone needs to stop paying taxes to enable them to but health insurance?

    • ilicit 5.1

      Had to stop mine years ago Tracey in order to be able to eat !!!

      • Tracey 5.1.1

        Yeah, and sadly, you can’t easily opt out of paying taxes to privately get what you were promised, cos of PAYE. Funny how it is vERY loaded against low income earners… damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    • b waghorn 5.2

      This will upset, few but is there a case where instead of the government running health services do they fund health insurance for all residents and fund it in a similar method to acc.

  6. M. Gray 6

    I have a friend that has always worked but he can’t now as he can hardly walk due to his hip. (bone on bone) He is in his early 40’s and has been told he has to wait 3 months for his operation in a public hospital, then there is rehab he wants to get back to work ASAP. He has to provide a medical certificate every month to Winz despite being diagnosed and on the waiting list for a hip op this costs him 35-40$ a pop why is he being asked for this when our govt knows he can hardly walk it is very visible his limp and why is it taking 3 months for his operation. By the time he has had all his treatment he could be of work for anywhere between 6 -12months. He has paid his taxes and now this is how he gets treated. Not only is he being treated badly so are cancer patients who are shoved on the job seekers benefit and expected to get medicals.

    • weka 6.1

      WINZ are shockingly stupid at this stuff sometimes.

      Does he know about disability allowance? He can claim the cost of the GP visit, plus any associated costs (eg transport). Of course that means dealing with WINZ, but it can make a different financially. He should be able to apply without going in if he has email and a phone and had mobility issues (I hope he’s not being made to go to a WINZ office with the med cert, that should be being faxed from the GP to WINZ directly).

      • Rosemary McDonald 6.1.1

        “Does he know about disability allowance? ”

        After over a decade on the Supported Living Payment, my tetraplegic partner has just graduated to Super!

        An extra $50 bucks per week! Maybe finally can get those teeth pulled out?

        The miserable sods took away nearly half of his Disability Allowance.

        No review. No form filling. Just took it away.

        Even though his costs for his disability have increased as he has aged….and since he had treatment for leukemia.

        Miserable sods….did I say that already?

        • ilicit

          My god, I so look forward to losing my Disability Allowance Rosemary, can hardly wait for my circumstances to get worse…………

      • Sabine 6.1.2

        WINZ are not shockingly stupid about this stuff at all, they have their guidelines, and one of them is no on in NZ is sick anymore, everyone can get a job, and that includes people living or dying with cancer.

        There i fixed it for you.

        And frankly, the result is that many that should be on a sick benefit are probably not applying at all, and Mrs. Bennett can crow about dropping benefit numbers.

        I don’t see why people can’t state what is. NZ Winz has become a government department that can best any department under the East German or USSR rule.

        • weka

          I’ve known some kind, compassionate and competent WINZ workers. I agree that the policies are getting more draconian, but I think this is also about the culture and many of the staff. People’s treatment can vary from office to office and region to region as well as person to person.

          • Rosemary McDonald

            “kind, compassionate and competent WINZ workers..”

            We met one of those. Won’t say who or where, but we wondered why on earth they were working where the were.

            This person got why my partner preferred me as his 24/7 carer, even though it seriously impacted us financially. This person reckoned that they (WINZ staff) were railroading folk off the dole and into caregiving jobs. Many of these people were barely capable of caring for themselves, never mind a person with high and complex care needs.

            This was the WINZ staffer who told us, after some years on the Invalids Benefit, about the Disability Allowance. Was really pissed off, but not surprised, we hadn’t been told before.

            You’d like to think that the majority (even if only slight) of WINZ workers had enough collective humanity to collectively tell their paymasters to stick their punitive attitude towards the ill and disabled up their aft crevasse.

            Politely, of course.

            In triplicate.

    • Rosemary McDonald 6.2

      An acquaintance in your friend’s position was given the option of having his hip replacement done at a provincial hospital….Rotorua if I recall correctly.

      Could this be and option?

      Or…an unfortunate ‘accident’?

      The system sucks….the life from you.

      • ilicit 6.2.1

        I give thanks for your support.

        And yes, Winz staff do vary in their interpretation of policy. To be a tiny bit fair, they do have an up to date website with their policies, but they are all still open to individual interpretation, enough so that one can be trespassed for disagreeing.

        Recent posts were about no support for cancer patients, there is none, I know that for sure because my time on earth is limited.

        But what about all the others who suffer terminal illness which is not cancer ?

        Not one of my varied case managers knows a thing about cancer, every visit is a mission, almost a mission impossible.

        Between them and Parmac, I will die sooner than could reasonably be expected.

        Yes Rosemary, it sucks the life out of you, fighting beraucracy, what a way to live !!!

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