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NZ's first private cancer centre

Published: 7:37PM Monday July 21, 2008 Source: ONE News

It's being hailed as long-overdue but New Zealand will soon open its first ever private cancer centre.

Backers of the $25 million facility say it will offer more choice for patients and the latest high tech treatment.

But it will come at a cost.

Come October, a building site at Auckland's Mercy Ascot Hospital will be transformed into New Zealand's first ever private cancer centre.

It will mean breast and prostate cancer patients will be able to choose between radiation therapy at one of the country's six public hospital cancer centres or at the new centre.

"It gives patients a choice - a choice of when they get treated from a timing point of view, a choice in terms of their specialist. And it's a choice of which type of facility," says Terry Moore of Auckland Radiation Oncology.

It's a joint venture between two private giants - Mercy Ascot and Southern Cross hospitals.

When finished, it will boast two linear accelerators with capacity for two more, treatment and consulting rooms and even a cafe.

By the time the linear accelerators are up and running they will be treating 100 patients, five days a week. They will offer the latest in high-tech treatment, using lower doses of radiation, pinpointing the cancers more precisely, yet treating the cancers more aggressively. Treatment sessions will be quicker and the average patient will be in and out in three minutes.

And patients will not have to rely on fluctuating public hospital waiting times to start their treatment.

"We will start their treatment within a week and all the urgent cases will start work within 24 hours," says Dr Benji Benjamin, clinical director.

It's expected to put an end to 10 years of sending patients to Australia when the public system is not coping.

"Now, with the arrival of this machine, we'll completely wipe out that. We'll be able to treat all New Zealanders in New Zealand," says Benjamin.

But that won't come cheap as each course of treatment will cost $15,000 to $20,000, meaning all eyes are on the country's private health insurers to see if they will cover it.

Ironically, several already do, despite the fact private treatment has never been available. But Southern Cross Insurance, with two thirds of the market, has yet to decide.

Andrew Wong of Auckland Radiation Oncology says going ahead with the new centre without knowing whether the insurers will cover it or not is a risk.

"But we were always confident that the insurance companies would see the enormous benefits to their policy holders of having a centre like this," he says.

Southern Cross medical insurance though is still negotiating on price.

"We owe it to our customers, our insured members, to make sure they're getting the best possible arrangement and we're confident we will," says Ian McPherson of Southern Cross.

Still, the cost of cancer cover is likely to cause a premium hike of around 2%.

"These are businesses. They'll have to make a profit. You'd have to be realistic and say it would increase premiums," says Dalton Kelly of the NZ Cancer Society.

It's a cost many might be willing to make to get the fastest possible treatment.