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Latest Radiation Oncology Treatment Waiting Times

Forty-three patients in Auckland had to wait longer than six weeks for radiation treatment in September compared with 52 in August, Ministry of Health figures revealed today.

The drop in waiting times was also reflected in Wellington figures where 28 people had to wait longer than six weeks for radiation in September compared with 33 in August.

Ministry of Health chief medical advisor Dr Colin Feek said he was pleased with the drop in the number of patients waiting longer than six weeks however the data had to be interpreted with caution.

"This positive change needs to be seen in the context of the overall slow but steady decrease in waiting times over the past two years."

"I empathise with patients and their families whose treatment is outside the minimum standards and wish to assure the public that those patients in most urgent need are being treated quickly."

Dr Feek said the Ministry of Health collected data on people waiting longer than six weeks. For breast cancer patients the New Zealand guidelines are for treatment within twelve weeks of surgery. Waits of more than twelve weeks are associated with a small but unknown risk of local recurrence.

Dr Feek said the six District Health Boards with cancer treatment centres were working with the Ministry of Health on short term measures to address the situation as quickly as possible.

"The problem is that there is a worldwide shortage of experienced radiation therapists and it may continue for some time."

The six DHBs with cancer treatment centres are cooperating to implement both short term and long term sustainable measures. Short term measures being examined include:

sharing of staff and patients within New Zealand reducing the length of an individual's course of radiation treatment without reducing the effectiveness of the treatment as is already being done at Auckland District Health Board and centres in Canada and the United Kingdom seeking assistance from Australia either by staff coming to New Zealand or patients going to Australia temporarily using staff from other countries with spare capacity redesigning support for radiation therapists so they can oversee more patient treatments both in terms of the number of patients treated per hour and the number of hours worked

"Auckland District Health Board has advised us that it had an overseas recruitment drive and will have a full complement of staff by February 2002. It also expected to have several more trained staff start over next two months."

ENDS


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