Cancer patients sent away for radiotherapy
A number of Auckland cancer patients needing radiotherapy have been transferred to treatment centres in the Waikato and Sydney.
An August review of the number of cancer patients needing radiotherapy found waiting lists were likely to increase if action wasn’t taken.
Auckland District Health Board clinical services manager Fionnagh Dougan says higher than normal numbers of acute patients is one of a number of reasons for the move.
Acute patients have tumours in painful areas such as the head, neck or spinal cord, or need urgent radiotherapy because they have advanced cancer that wasn’t previously diagnosed.
“Some people need 35 consecutive bursts of radiotherapy. They have to take priority,” Ms Dougan says.
The resignation of five radiotherapists, who have transferred to a new private provider at Mercy Ascot Hospital, also forced the temporary cancellation of the evening shift.
“It’s a free market and people will work where they want to. They might be dealing with people who are more well.”
An evening shift is necessary to keep waiting lists at the recommended seven to eight weeks.
Around 10 patients a week have been treated at Waikato Hospital since the review, while seven were sent to Sydney, with all costs paid by the board.
The board runs the service but takes on patients from Waitemata, CountiesManukau and Northern DHBs.
An optimal number of radiotherapists at Auckland Hospital is 54, while it currently has 47.
Ms Dougan says only patients who are well enough to travel are offered the alternative of going to Waikato or Sydney.
“A few people have been understandably upset, while a lot have been comfortable about it.”
She hopes an evening shift will be available again this month thanks to temporary staff and permanent replacements for those who resigned.
They will also take on four radiotherapy graduates early next year.
Ms Dougan says it’s difficult to predict future treatment needs because they don’t know how many people with private health insurance could use the new Mercy Ascot facility. “A lot more people could get access.” The country’s largest health insurer, Southern Cross Healthcare, with 840,000 members, has agreed to cover radiotherapy in most of its policies.
No agreement has been reached on whether the unit will treat public patients.
The health board is also looking at outsourcing some surgical procedures, but did not provide any information to the Auckland City Harbour News by deadline.