Cancer Patients Sent To Australia

Waiting times for radiation therapy in Auckland have become so long that some patients are being sent to Australia for treatment. Readers who know something of the recent history of the NZ health service will know that there has been a dire shortage of radiologists in NZ for quite some time.

Source: NZ Herald, Tues 9 Sept 2008

Cancer patients of Auckland District Health Board are again being sent to Australia for treatment, because the region’s radiation therapy waiting times have blown out.

Six have agreed to cross the Ditch for treatment and 11 will go to Waikato Hospital.

The now-usual mix of staff shortages and machinery failures is behind the latest episode of the decade-old problem – plus a big increase in patients needing immediate treatment. The new twist is that while New Zealand’s first private radiation therapy clinic may be contributing to the difficulties, it could also help to solve them.

Auckland Radiation Oncology plans to open its Epsom clinic in November.

The health board said yesterday that five of its radiation therapists had been hired by the private clinic and this had contributed to the worsening delays.

The board said waiting times for “low acuity” patients had been four to six weeks for the past year, but were now at least 12 weeks.

Susan – she asked for her real name to be withheld – is one such patient. A 55-year-old who had a partial mastectomy on July 1, she was booked to start radiation therapy this Friday. That would have been just short of eight weeks from when her specialist recommended the treatment.

But last Friday a board official rang to postpone the appointment without stating a new date, and to ask if Susan could go to Waikato Hospital for the 20 doses of radiation.

But she works fulltime and could not spend four weeks in Hamilton at such short notice. Now she is starting to worry about risks from the delay.

“I live in a big city with a big hospital. I expect I should be able to have my treatment in the largest city in New Zealand. There’s something wrong when people have to be sent elsewhere to smaller cities or to Australia.”

The Health Ministry in 2001 said the maximum wait for “priority C” patients like Susan should be four weeks. Last year it changed this to a target of less than eight weeks.

The board’s clinical director of radiation oncology, Dr Andrew Macann, said some therapists had left for personal reasons, such as going overseas. It had hired five since March, but the overall losses, including those to the private clinic, had made it more difficult to meet the suddenly increased need for treatment.

The board would consider contracting the private clinic to treat patients from the public sector.

But even private clinics are struggling to recruit Radiographers:

Pacific Radiology cleared to acquire Wellington Radiology

Dec 20, 2007
The Commerce Commission has cleared Pacific Radiology Limited to acquire all the assets of Wellington Radiology Limited…In the Greater Wellington region, there are only two private providers of radiology services: Wellington Radiology and Pacific Radiology. The acquisition would result in there being only one provider in the region…

Wellington Radiology is owned and operated by two radiologists, one of whom intends to retire. As there is a nationwide shortage of radiologists, Wellington Radiology has been unsuccessful in finding a radiologist to replace the retiring partner…

Because of this, Wellington Radiology has sought to sell its business but has not attracted any offers from outside of the region, despite concerted efforts to do so. This is largely due to the shortage of radiologists.

Consequently the Commission has concluded that the acquisition of Wellington Radiology Ltd by Pacific Radiology Limited would not have, or would not be likely to have, the effect of substantially lessening competition in the market.

A market that seems to be shrinking by the day. It’s not just Radiologists that are in short supply, a few months ago this article appeared on One News . It’s not just the patients that are going overseas.

Shortage Of Medical Radiation Technologists

Mar 2, 2008
A shortage of medical radiation technologists in the Waikato is causing a major disruption to breast screening services in the region.

The district health board has been struggling to secure enough MRTs, but says the problem’s become urgent over the past couple of weeks.

Chief Operating Officer Jan Adams says a competitive international market, an aging workforce and a decline in the amount of new graduates coming out of training is creating the shortages.

She says they’re working to recruit people by offering flexible working conditions.

Jan Adams says the shortages aren’t affecting other services at this stage.