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Latest Radiation Oncology Treatment Waiting Times

5 July 2001

The percentage of patients waiting four to six weeks for cancer treatment has fallen according to Ministry of Health figures released today.

Ministry of Health figures show some waiting lists lengthened during May however the percentage of patients waiting for treatment between 4-6 weeks fell.

It is expected the pressure on cancer treament waiting lists will continue for several more months until extra staff from a coordinated recruitment drive are in place to help reduce the length of time patients wait for radiation therapy.

Ministry Chief Medical Advisor Dr Colin Feek said there had been an increased demand for services linked to a worldwide shortage of experienced staff.

"The biggest problem is that New Zealand seems unable to market itself as a destination where health professionals choose to settle.

"The message for potential overseas staff is that New Zealand has a lower cost of living when compared to other countries".

Dr Feek said figures to the end of May showed 52.2 percent of patients needing radiation therapy started their treament on time (within four weeks of the decision to treat).

The percentage of patients that had to wait between four and six weeks for treatment dropped from 26.1 percent in April to 17.8 percent in May.

"Patients considered to have priority needs have had their waiting times reduced however we remain concerned that other people with routine needs are still facing delays. There are only long term answers to this situation and we predict waiting times will start improving in a few months time".

The Ministry of Health and district health boards have invested considerable time and effort into tackling this problem. Initiatives include:

- increased funding for radiation therapy treatments by 14 percent to $31.9 million this year - compared with 27.1 million last year

- a sixth linear accelerator in Auckland is expected to be up and running in October and another old machine is due to be replaced early next year.

- cooperation between cancer centres and ongoing recruitment efforts to increase national staff numbers.

- class sizes for radiation therapists have been increased by 53 percent this year from 17 in 1999/2000 to 28 in 2000/2001

"These activities demonstrate our determination to improve access to radiation therapy services" Dr Feek said.


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