Can­cer pa­tients sent away for ra­dio­ther­apy

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Scott Mor­gan

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.

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