Hong Kong cancer therapy

‘Slash waiting time and increase funding for new drugs’: cancer survivors in Hong Kong call for better policies

Cancer Strategy Concern Group will meet health minister to highlight problems of patients ahead of city leader’s address

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 September, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 4:05pm

Some cancer survivors in Hong Kong have formed a new group calling for better health policies such as slashing the waiting time for treatment and increasing funding for new drugs to fight the top killer disease in the city.

The organisation, called the Cancer Strategy Concern Group, is pushing for government efforts to improve screenings, speed up diagnoses and increase medicine subsidies. It said it hoped these steps would be announced at Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy address next month.

Currently patients diagnosed with more common forms of the disease, such as breast cancer, must wait up to two months before receiving their first treatment. It can take public hospitals up to five years to approve a new subsidised drug, according to an earlier report.

“Many cancer patients have died without the time or strength to come out and fight for better policies. This is why we formed the group,” said founder Clement Chan, who battled leukaemia for 18 years.

Another founder, Oliver Woo, who also suffered from leukaemia, said the prolonged wait of up to two months for the first therapy meant patients missed the “golden period” for treatment, increasing the risk of complications.

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According to a report in December by the Oncology Innovation Study Group formed by doctors and patients, colon cancer sufferers waited up to 69 days for treatment after being diagnosed, while the wait was 64 days for breast cancer patients and 53 for nasopharyngeal cancer patients.

“It is a vicious circle with overloaded hospitals ending up using more resources to tend to patients if their conditions have deteriorated because of the long wait,” Woo said.

In the report, public hospitals took five years to review a new therapy before adding it to the list of subsidised medicine – three times longer than in the UK and four times that of Australia.

Out of the 26 cancer drugs approved by the European Medicine Agency from 2003 to 2014, only a third were provided to local patients through public funding, the report stated.

“The reluctance of the government to approve new drugs for standard usage has caused big financial burdens for the middle class who are not qualified for subsidies,” Mary Wong Hemrajani, Global Chinese Breast Cancer Organisations Alliance chairwoman, said.

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“Many breast cancer patients sell off their private flats to afford the cost of medication, while some others with no alternatives may even give up on treatment.”

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung has proposed that the government set aside HK$20 billion for a “life-saving drug fund” for cancer patients and those with rare diseases, allowing sufferers to bypass rigid procedures for medication under the Hospital Authority.

Cheung and the group will meet health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee to express their views before the chief executive’s policy address.

According to data from the Hospital Authority, there were 29,618 new cancer cases and 13,803 deaths from the disease in 2014. Research suggested that one in four men and one in five women in Hong Kong were likely to be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 75.