Speech to Breast Cancer Foundation – Insights Conference

Before moving onto the substance of today’s address, I want to recognise the very significant and ongoing contribution the Breast Cancer Foundation makes to support the lives of New Zealand women and their families living with breast cancer. I very much enjoy working with you.

I also want to recognise the contribution the Foundation makes to our deeper knowledge, analysis and understanding of this very significant form of cancer.

I want to personally acknowledge our international guests, conference organisers and domain experts for the tireless work and ambitions you have for breast cancer. Thank you.

Today’s address to you focuses on targets and follows a suite of cancer initiatives our coalition Government is already delivering on:

  • Introducing a faster cancer treatment health target - 90 per cent of patients to receive cancer management within 31 days of the decision to treat
  • Increasing breast screening eligibility for 70 – 74 year olds
  • Funding two new cancer drugs for metabolic breast cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia
  • Funding South Island PET scanning accessibility which will especially benefit men with prostate cancer
  • Implementing a new cancer radiotherapy machine at Whangārei Hospital so 520 Northlanders a year will no longer have to travel to Auckland for treatment
  • Expanding cancer infusion services in Whanganui for up to 10 patients a day
  • Collaborating with the first provincial PET-CT scanner in New Zealand in Whangarei
  • Pharmac agreeing to continue to exempt children with cancer under the 81b exemption
  • And – particularly relevant to today - launching a new mobile breast screening unit in Counties Manukau, taking the national fleet to 13 and further increasing accessibility for up to 6 thousand women a year

I know I speak to the converted in this room but it is an opportunity today to anchor some points.

We know cancer touches thousands of New Zealand families each year, and that breast cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand women with 3,400 women diagnosed with the disease annually.

That’s why we prioritised our election promise to expand screening for the 70 – 74 year age group as part of the coalition Government’s 100 day plan.

Overall, our extension means women will be eligible for an average of two to three extra mammograms once the programme is fully implemented – and means around 120,000 additional women will be eligible for screening every two years.

Catching more cancers early means better treatment outcomes, and we anticipate an additional 22 lives could be saved every year on current uptake, and 65 with full uptake.

While we want to move as swiftly as possible on the expansion, we do need to allow the health system to prepare for the roughly 60,000 additional women eligible each year.

There’s a lot to be done in terms of preparation, both human and capital infrastructure.

As well as planning for the expansion of existing screening services, Health New Zealand will need to plan for the upstream and downstream cancer treatment services required to support the additional women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

We know screening works - women who participate in the existing programme are 34 per cent less likely to die from breast cancer.

Raising the breast cancer screening age will benefit all women including Māori and Pacific peoples who have particularly high rates.

As you’ll also be aware, addressing wait times for cancer treatment was something our coalition Government prioritised as one of five key health targets in our 100 day plan.

Tese targets are a common destination that have stood the test of time across many governments and remain as valid now as when they were first promoted.

However the refreshed targets we’ve announced and their elevation to a high propriety represent a vigorous new direction in health from a Government determined to deliver for all New Zealanders.

I want to speak more about targets.

  • The 5 headline targets are:
  • Faster cancer treatment - 90 per cent of patients to receive cancer management within 31 days of the decision to treat.
  • Improved immunisation for kids - 95 per cent of children to be fully immunised at 24 months of age.
  • Shorter stays in emergency departments - 95 per cent of patients to be admitted, discharged or transferred from an ED within six hours.
  • Shorter wait times for first specialist assessment – 95 per cent of patients to wait less than four months for an FSA.
  • Shorter wait times for treatment – 95 per cent of patients to wait less than four months for elective treatment.

It’s important we are ambitious in trying to achieve better health outcomes for New Zealanders. Unfortunately, most clinical metrics went backwards in the past 6 years and I would contend that a reduced focus on targets was a contributor.

This is the case because having a focus on targets and reporting on them publicly focuses resources, attention and accountability and helps identify where there are problems.

For the cancer target, we have advanced the 31 day cancer goal from its current setting to 90 per cent, and there is much work to do around regional variability.

Health New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora will report target progress – including for cancer - regularly. The agency will be directed to publish transparent results on each of the five targets every quarter.

The targets come into effect with a 1 July 2024 baseline, so the first quarterly results will be for July-September 2024.

We are unapologetically an outcomes-driven Government. In Health, that means setting targets which will deliver better results for all New Zealanders.

This includes targets to improve cancer outcomes, and save lives – including the lives of Kiwi women touched by breast cancer.

Targets sit in an overall direction for health under a mission statement of “timely access to quality healthcare.”

Referring back to the launch of the mobile screening unit in Counties Manukau recently – obviously it was a very impressive new unit, bright and shiny with all the mammography and IT equipment one would expect.

But what really impressed both the Prime Minister and myself that day was the professionalism and enthusiasm of the screening team staff who came along to celebrate their new ‘workplace.’

Health workforce is our biggest challenge and our biggest asset and I thank the whole health workforce wherever they are today.

 So in closing, I also want to finish by acknowledging the hard work of our health staff, who work across cancer screening and treatments right around the country to help improve health outcomes for all cancer patients.

Thank you to the team at the Breast Cancer Foundation for inviting me here today.

I look forward to working with you into the future.