Dying man and his wife prompt Health Minister to promise better cancer care, sometime

A dying man from Southland, Blair Vining, and his wife Melissa, put Health Minister David Clark on the spot at  the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington yesterday. Clark has promised better cancer care.

Providing sufficient health care is always going to be a challenge, but regional differences can be quite unfair on some people diagnosed with cancer.

Stuff: Southland man Blair Vining calls government to account over ‘lack of cancer action plan’

Blair Vining says if it was not for his persistent wife Melissa he would probably be dead.

The Southlander said it was the stark reality of his situation and was why he was calling the New Zealand government to account over not having a cancer action in place.

Vining was last year diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given six to eight weeks to live without any treatment.

The catch though was that he was advised it would take eight weeks to get his first oncologist appointment.

That is awful.

Vining did not have eight weeks to wait.

Instead his wife Melissa searched the private sector in a desperate attempt to speed up the process.

He was able to see Dr Chris Jackson in Christchurch and get the treatment process started within three weeks.

“It took 19 phone calls and a very persistent wife. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been in the public sector and waiting for eight weeks,” Vining said.

As part of the public health sector he said he overheard doctors talking outside his room about his inoperable status and he also had an infected IV line as procedure wasn’t followed through.

He also said at one point he had a six-hour journey for urgent treatment because no-one was available at the Southern District Health Board.

One would hope that people diagnosed with terminal cancer wouldn’t effectively be condemned to die for lack of health care.

At least in this case one dying person and their wife may be able to make a difference for others – if Health Minister Clark follows through on his assurances.

Stuff:  Health Minister David Clark commits to improving cancer treatment for all Kiwis


Health Minister David Clark has vowed to get the ball rolling a national cancer plan to improve Kiwis’ access to fair and consistent cancer treatment, regardless of where they live.

Speaking at the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington, Clark acknowledged more needed to be done in the sector and that he, along with the Ministry of Health, would be working to establish a plan.

Clark had the hard task of following a talk by Blair Vining, a Southland father dying of bowel cancer, and his wife Melissa, who took the minister to task.

“You have failed Blair, you have failed me and my children, and you have failed many other New Zealanders by not having a cancer plan,” Melissa said to Clark and the gathered crowd of cancer experts.

It looks like he was deliberately put on the spot by conference organisers, but at least Clark was there to listen.

“I am personally concerned about the growing inequalities [to access health care] and that is the main reason I chose to get involved in politics.”

“The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister and that’s why we’re moving towards … a national system.

“We are committing to an action plan and one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together,” Clark said.

There are positive signs that Clark understands the problem and will do something about it.

But there are also mixed messages from Clark about whether he sees it as urgent or not.

He said “The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister” but “one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together” is worrying – after 15 months as minister and being aware of the issue he now says they are at “early steps of pulling that together”.

He said timelines were up in the air at this stage, but he was committed to seeing change as soon as possible.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer and is told he may die within two months, and is unable to see a public health specialist for two months, then timelines being ‘up in the air’ is not a very solid assurance.

Clark often comes across as an earnest do-gooder who struggles with the doing.

Health ministers have to try to manage many priorities, but providing health care for people before they die should be close to the top of the list.  I hope Clark takes urgent action over this.

“Treat the abuse of drugs and alcohol as a health issue”

Moves continue more towards drug and alcohol issues more as health problems than criminal problems.

NZ Herald reports: Value in new drug addiction approach

An “inspiring” Auckland rehabilitation centre shows why a recent shift to treat the abuse of drugs and alcohol as a health issue is warranted, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says.

A substantial number of patients at Higher Ground Facility in Te Atatu, which Mr Dunne visited today, are being treated for methamphetamine.

“It was extraordinarily impressive and very moving. There is a highly dedicated staff, really well motivated residents, and just a sort of a buzz that everyone was there to do a job about making life better for the people who are the residents there,” Mr Dunne said.

It’s good to see promising results with a more compassionate approach.

Mr Dunne recently launched the 2015-2020 National Drug Policy, which could significantly reform the treatment of drugs such as cannabis.

“We are shifting the focus very deliberately to seeing drug-related issues primarily as health issues, and I keep using three words in respect of the principles that underline the policy – compassion, innovation and proportion.

“Compassion in terms of a sympathetic response to people’s issues, innovation in looking a new and different ways of tackling old problems…and proportion, making sure we get the balance right all the way through.”


The new national drug policy has five priority areas, one of which is “getting the legal balance right”. The Ministry of Health will work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that classification decisions on drugs were focussed on harm.

Work will also take place to examine whether the law and enforcement measures around drug possession and utensil possession are still reasonable and proportionate.

When it was released, the policy was hailed as hugely significant by the NZ Drug Foundation, who say it signalled an armistice in “The War on Drugs”.

Treating the abuse of drugs and alcohol as a health issue would mean prevention, education and treatment would take priority over the criminal justice approach, the foundation said.

Dealing with the health issues will help prevent them becoming criminal issues, or break the habit and cycle.

I think that Dunne is doing as much as he can in moving the handling of drug issues in a better direction. It’s taking a while but there are signs of a far more realistic and hopefully more effective approach.