Brian Sheppard call for action

Brian Sheppard, is a member of the Head and Neck Cancer Support Network committee. He attended the recent Cancer at the Crossroads conference. Following the conference shares this message with you. If you would like to work with us to advocate for higher standards of cancer care, we would love to hear from you. Please email


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the organisers and speakers for the highly stimulating Cancer at the Crossroads conference that has just been held in Wellington.  The event extended understanding and strong support to address critical issues that affect cancer patients and their whanau.   The Minister and Director-General of Health each gave commitments for ensuring better leadership and to develop a cancer plan.  This was very welcome news in the chaotic world of cancer, but dare I and other consumer representatives raise our hopes?

My scepticism has evolved because this was the latest in over a decade of meetings that I have attended in which we heard tragic stories of more people who had experienced unnecessary additional suffering from that posed by the actual cancer.  Over the years, policy-makers and medical professionals renewed pledges for improvements after ‘rediscovering’ the impacts of the manner in which many cancer patients and their whanau have been treated.  We were told that the focus of the service would now be on patient-centred care, with equity for disadvantaged sectors of our community, especially Maori.  Regrettably, little has changed.  

My family and I have nothing but praise for the way that my diagnosis and treatment was handled 14 years ago, and for the high standards of professionalism and compassion that we experienced but we were lucky.  That’s not the same for everyone. 

In this conference, we heard Blair and Melissa Vining tell of the series of inexcusable events that compounded their problems of dealing with Blair’s bowel cancer.  At the end of a brave and emotional presentation, Melissa told the Minister that he had failed them.  The Minister is of course ultimately accountable for the performance of the health service, as were his predecessors, but so too are the series of Directors-General of Health, their managers and staff, and all of us who have worked or volunteered in the field of cancer support.  By not ensuring that promises were kept, we have all failed the many people whose cancer journeys could have been eased if previous assurances had been carried out.

The current undertakings by the Minister and Director-General would mean that all New Zealanders could expect the same high standards of cancer care that I received.  If no changes occur after this conference, it merely marks a recurring challenge and we all contribute to a continuing failure.  Institutions and individuals, including the cancer consumer representatives, all have something to contribute to the solutions and has their own networks.  My plea is that we discuss this challenge within our networks to see how we can best come together to support the Minister and Director-General and work as a team to ensure, at every opportunity, that this happens.


Yours sincerely

Brian Sheppard

57 Erlestoke Crescent, Wellington 6037

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Diana Ayling

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  • Yes, Brian is talking sense - but then he is not a 'jobs worth', is he ?  All the 'jobs worths' do is 'pass the buck' but, if they have any power at all then not one of them will do anything constructive

    • I am hopeful that the ground swell that this Conference seems to have generated will continue.  We will soon be at 1 in 2 having cancer.  We have an opportunity .... once again and we need to be the drivers to hold the Government/MoH are held accountable.  

      • Accountability, consequences and taking responsibility don't seem to be in their vocabulary - you can hope, pray or whatever you think appropriate but if anything happens ot will be a miracle - and I don't beleive in miracles.

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