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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong government urged to cut cancer treatment waiting times, as some in the city wait up to 80 days to be seen

The Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society says the length of time to be seen by a doctor could be contributing to lower survival rate for some cancers in the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 11:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 11:55am

Hong Kong’s oldest cancer prevention group has asked for the government to look into narrowing waiting times between disease diagnosis and first treatment at public hospitals, saying some patients had to wait up to 80 days.

This is the length of time people found to have colorectal cancer must wait before their receive treatment, with the waiting time 66 days for breast cancer and 54 days for nasopharyngeal cancer, according to the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society on Saturday, quoting a Hospital Authority report.

In 2015, a total of 5,036 new cases of colorectal cancer were reported – or 16.6 per cent of all new cancer cases.

“Although we want to do more prevention, more than 50 per cent of cancer is not yet preventable and good treatment is important,” said Professor Anne Lee Wing-mui, the society’s vice-chairwoman.

“But from a Hospital Authority report, the waiting time from diagnosis to first treatment was long. Particularly worrisome is colorectal cancer at 80 days.”

Lee said it was worrisome because the survival rate for colorectal cancer in 2016 was only 56 per cent in Hong Kong, compared to up to 72 per cent in South Korea.

“So we need to do better,” she said, adding only 37 per cent of colorectal cancer cases in Hong Kong were diagnosed in the early stages.

She said if the waiting time for treatment was too long, it would negate the impact of the colorectal screening programme, which has been extended to Hong Kong residents aged between 50 and 75 in phases.

In the UK, the waiting time targets for cancer treatment have been set for no more than 62 days while in the US, the median time was 29 days.

“We have to try to reduce the waiting time (for treatment). Ideally, we hope we can reduce it down to 30 days,” Lee said.

The society called on the government to set out a comprehensive cancer control policy, with clear targets for preventive, medical and holistic care.

Its president, Dr Edward Leong Che-hung, said: “We need leadership. The government must come up with an over-arching policy for cancer. The government must tell us: What is the policy? What are we targeting? If we say cancer now kills so many people, can we cut it down after five years, after 10 years?”

There should be also a timeline for reducing cancer incidence, he said.

“Up to today, the government has not been daring enough to come up with a policy on cancer and not daring enough to come up with a timeline,” said Leong, who has headed multiple public sector agencies, including the Hospital Authority from 2002 to 2004.

The society submitted several recommendations to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ahead her policy address next week.

These include subsidising a population-wide human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination scheme to all girls aged nine to 13 for prevention of cervical cancer and subsidising regular screening for high-risk groups of liver, nasopharyngeal and breast cancers for early detection.

Cancer remains the top killer in Hong Kong, accounting for one-third of all deaths.

There were 30,318 new cancer cases in 2015, and this figure is projected to reach 42,190 by 2030.

The society on Saturday held an international symposium on cancer challenges, with Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, also the new president of the Union for International Cancer Control, as a guest.

Mired said she joined the global fight against cancer after her son was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was two years old.