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Hong Kong Cancer Patients Trapped by Long Waits

2017-07-09 21:20

- Concern Groups: Government Should Put Reform as Immediate Priority

HONG KONG, July 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Various Hong Kong cancer policy concern groups held a brainstorming session, urging the new term of government to face up to the long waiting time for cancer patients; and to put the reform of cancer control policy at the top of this year's agenda.

(From left to right)Cancer patients Wu and Victor, Mr Yuen Siu Lam, Mr Cheung Chiu Hung, Dr Alexander Chiu and Dr Raymond Lo attended the roundtable to discuss cancer patients long wait issue.
(From left to right)Cancer patients Wu and Victor, Mr Yuen Siu Lam, Mr Cheung Chiu Hung, Dr Alexander Chiu and Dr Raymond Lo attended the roundtable to discuss cancer patients long wait issue.


Various cancer patient group representatives gathered to discuss the difficulties confronting cancer patients and advocate the new government to address their needs.
Various cancer patient group representatives gathered to discuss the difficulties confronting cancer patients and advocate the new government to address their needs.

The brainstorming session was co-organized by Hong Kong Alliance of Patients' Organizations and The Cancer Information, aiming to set up a communications platform on cancer policy. Participants included over 40 representatives from various cancer concern groups, specialist medical professionals, legislative councillors and district councillors.

The number of cancer cases in Hong Kong has been on the rise. In 2014, there were 29,618 newly diagnosed cancer cases. There are about 80 new cancer cases now every day.

More and more patients are fighting for their lives against cancer. However, due to the lack of a holistic cancer control policy in Hong Kong, these patients have to face long waits for first treatments, for effective drugs, and for integrated medical services. Hong Kong lags behind many other countries in these areas.

The wait for the first treatment

Long delays to cancer treatment after diagnosis bring huge stress to Hong Kong cancer patients, resulting in negative impacts on the effectiveness of treatment. Such delays are also causing the patients and their families great anxiety. According to the figures from the Hospital Authority (HA), the waiting times for patients with colorectal cancer, breast cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer to receive their first treatment after diagnosis are 73 days, 65 days and 54 days respectively. Shortening the wait will greatly improve patients' health conditions and their quality of life.

Ms. Mary Wong, Global Chinese Breast Cancer Organizations Alliance Chairman, said, "Some women found lumps in their breasts during self-examination had to wait for a year to a year and a half for an X-ray examination at public hospitals. The average waiting time to receive the first treatment after diagnosis is two months. The golden period for treatment will then be easily missed. This is so unfair to the patients!"

Victor, a patient with nasopharyngeal cancer, told his story, "The doctor spent a month for examination until I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. Then I was made to wait for another month before the treatment could start. During the course, I had been to so many facilities and waited for so many formalities. Every wait was a torture, both to me and my family."

The wait for effective drugs

Meanwhile, cancer patients in Hong Kong have to wait for the access to new and effective drugs which are internationally recognized and affordable. Hong Kong patients have to wait much longer than those in other countries which practise better cancer control. For instance, such waits in Hong Kong are three times longer than in the United Kingdom and four times longer than in France. It takes five years for the HA to enlist a new cancer drug into the Drug Formulary and the safety net, with the expenses partially covered. It takes up to eight years for a drug to be put as Special Drug, with the expenses fully covered.

As it takes time to introduce new drugs, quite some patients could not even get access to them. From 2003 to 2014, the European Union approved 26 drugs which can be used as the main drugs for treating the top ten cancers in Hong Kong. However, only one-third of these drugs are included for subsidy. Hence the grassroots, the middle and lower classes could not get timely access to a lot of these new drugs.

Dr. Alexander Chiu, a hospital administrator, pointed out that new cancer drugs are being introduced "slowly and scarcely" in Hong Kong. "The Government is of course the gatekeeper to gauge the efficacy of drugs. However, the efficiency of introducing new drugs is indeed quite low, with lack of objective criteria in the system," he added.

Mr. Wu, a blood cancer patient, said, "When my blood cancer returned two years after the first treatment, my doctor advised me to take the chemotherapy drug I took last time. From my observation of other cases, I was worried that it would not be effective to me. It may even put my life at risk. I insisted not taking it again. Then I was lucky to be able to join a clinical trial so I could try a new drug for free. Many others do not have such an opportunity and they have no choice."

The wait for integrated medical services

The services for cancer treatment in Hong Kong are often fragmented. Patients do not know when integrated medical services will be available to them. Integrated cancer services could be provided by hospitals, where case managers will be the navigators in the course of treatment and rehabilitation; or provided jointly by hospitals and the community, where palliative care services can be made possible at an early stage. Such holistic services are of the utmost importance to patients.

Dr. Raymond Lo, Immediate Past President of the Federation of Medical Societies of Hong Kong, said, "Palliative care, if provided at an early stage of cancer treatment, could alleviate the physical and emotional distresses of terminal cancer patients, hence leading to a better quality of life and a longer life expectancy. The integration of hospital and community services echoes with the approach of 'ageing in place' advocated by the government."

Put reform at the top of this year's agenda

Legislator Mr. Fernando Cheung Chiu Hung underscored that cancer is the most fatal among chronic illnesses. "Patients are vulnerable and we need to speak up for them, in order to help them out of the dreadful situation of long waits. I hope the Chief Executive and the new term of government will shoulder this responsibility. I request the new term of government to wait no more, start reviewing the cancer control policy immediately, listen to stakeholders' opinions, and allocate extra funding promptly to really reduce the waiting time for patients," he said.

Mr. Yuen Siu-lam, Chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance of Patients' Organizations, said, "To help cancer patients in Hong Kong who face long waits, we will reflect the views gathered in the brainstorming session to the new term of government. We will also continue communicating with stakeholders in order to arrive at a consensus. We hope the Chief Executive will put the reform of cancer control policy in the Policy Address to be delivered this October. The Government should make reference to international best practices to review and improve cancer control to ease the difficulties confronting thousands of cancer patients."

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Source: Cancer Information

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