Cancer Psychological and Social Support Initiative

The Cancer Psychological and Social Support Initiative aims to improve access to psychological and social support services for adults with cancer.

Budget 2014 provided up to $4.2 million a year for this initiative. The funding provides for at least 30 full-time equivalent psychological and social support workers across the country, and six full-time equivalent Regional Leads located within the cancer centres at Auckland DHB, Canterbury DHB, Capital & Coast DHB, MidCentral DHB, Southern DHB and Waikato DHB.

A National Clinical Lead has also been established, to provide leadership and support to the workforce. This role is key to establishing support services nationwide.

Focus of the initiative

The initiative fits within the Faster Cancer Treatment (FCT) programme. This programme focuses on adults at the ‘front of the treatment pathway’ – the period from high suspicion of cancer through to completion of hospital-based cancer treatment, within the public health care system. During this period, the cancer service works with patients to identify their psychological and social needs and to respond to those needs. The initiative funds adults with cancer who will receive publicly funded treatment.

The initiative focuses on providing psychological and social support to adults with cancer whose needs have not been met by existing services. This includes patients who:

  • have high and complex needs (ie, those who have multiple stressors, unrelenting distress, or risk factors like a history of mental illness and little or no social support)
  • live in communities that find it more difficult to access services (eg, rural communities, low socioeconomic communities, Māori and Pacific communities)
  • have cancer diagnoses where there tend to be fewer supports or that are associated with greater distress (eg, head and neck cancer).

Wider supportive care services

This initiative workforce is part of a broader psychological and social support service for adults with cancer.

The existing psychological and social support workforce provide care to a wide range of patients. They focus on meeting the general needs of patients (eg, assessing general health and wellbeing) and providing additional assistance if required. They ensure patients are given the right information and support links.

Rationale for establishing the initiative

The Guidance for Improving Supportive Care for Adults with Cancer in New Zealand noted patients had variable access to supportive care interventions and there was a gap in existing psychology and counselling services. In particular, there are very few psychologists and social workers specialising in supportive care for adults with cancer. The initiative aims to address this gap in the workforce and improve supportive care for people with cancer.


The Ministry has commissioned an external evaluation of the initiative, which will inform service improvements.

The evaluation will assess the Initiative to understand whether it is:

  • improving the experience for patients with cancer and their family and whānau
  • improving the overall access and timeliness of access to psychological and social support services.

The information and data collected from the DHBs will be used to support quality improvement and ongoing development of this service.

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