Hundreds of cancer patients each year will be saved the stress of travelling to Palmerston North for treatment with the opening of Whanganui Hospital’s new chemotherapy unit.
Te Whatu Ora Whanganui will open the $800,000 infusion facility on 14 December.
Last year, Cancer Society volunteer drivers transported 222 patients to Palmerston North Hospital for 882 appointments for either chemotherapy, radiation therapy or specialist appointments.
Many more patients made their own way to Palmerston North for chemotherapy treatment.
Cancer Society Central Districts chief executive Debra Elgar said there was “an issue of inequity” when people had to travel for treatment. Easy access to treatment was one of the factors that influenced equitable outcomes for cancer patients, she said.
“People may not have reliable transport, or whānau who can help get them to treatment.”
If a patient meets certain criteria, the National Travel Assistance Scheme reimburses travel costs at the rate of 28 cents per kilometre.
“[That] falls a long way short of meeting actual costs,” Elgar told Local Democracy Reporting.
“This is an equity issue as it inevitably impacts the people who can least afford to travel.”
The Cancer Society and other community organisations make frequent appeals to the Government to address the gap, she said.
“We are doing about 40 drives per week [from Whanganui] for chemo, radiotherapy, surgical referrals or follow-up.
“Last year, Cancer Society volunteer drivers travelled 132,948km to help reduce the stress on patients and ensure they were able to access their treatment.”
Providing local infusion treatment services closer to where people live would help reduce the requirement to travel and lower stress on patients, she said.
Reducing travelling times benefits patients who often have to take large amounts of time away from work and family to receive treatment in Palmerston North, she said.
Some patients have difficulty taking time off work.
“Making it easier and less time intensive will reduce stress levels,” Elgar said.
“If you have ever felt travel-sick from a car journey, then imagine how wretched it can be post-chemo to travel for another hour.
“The extra two hours a day travelling can be immensely exhausting, so having this treatment locally helps reduce one of the barriers patients face to receiving treatment.”
Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand acting group director operations at Whanganui Hospital Kath Fraser-Chapple said up to 10 patients a day would be able to receive infusion therapy in the new unit, including medical infusions and chemotherapy services.
The first patients would be notified of their appointments closer to the opening date, Fraser-Chapple said.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air