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Latest Oncology Waiting Times

Nearly 200 more patients started radiation treatment in January compared with December, latest oncology waiting time statistics show.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Andrew Holmes said while the January figures showed there was an increase in the number of people having to wait more than six weeks for treatment, 190 more people had started radiation compared with the previous month.

"In January 601 patients started treatment, compared with 411 in December, 585 in November and 579 in October."

"While it is good the number of patients starting treatment has improved, and that all indications are that this will continue, this has not yet flowed through to reduced waiting times. However, this increase in the number of patients treated is what it takes to substantially reduce waiting times. "

"Both the Ministry and cancer treatment services are continuing to work hard to reduce the length of time patients wait for cancer treatment. We appreciate how difficult this situation is for patients and their families."

January's waiting time figures reflect treatment delays due to radiation therapist strikes in December, and fewer working days when radiation treatment could be offered during the Christmas New Year holiday period.

"There was varying lengths of industrial action taken by radiation therapists in the Auckland, Waikato and Palmerston North cancer centres during December. Since then, employment issues have been successfully resolved in each centre and in Palmerston North radiation staff and the District Health Board have come to an agreement about how to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for radiotherapy."

New Zealand cancer centres are recruiting an increasing number of radiation therapists and vacancies are being filled, Dr Holmes said.

MidCentral Health has a full complement of staff, Capital and Coast Health has only one vacancy and several therapists will be joining the cancer centre at Auckland DHB over the next two months.

Dr Holmes said the purpose of collecting information about waiting times was to assist the tracking of changes at each cancer centre over time and this required information to be collected on a consistent basis.

The cancer waiting times published by the Ministry record the time between the first specialist assessment and the start of radiotherapy treatment.

Dr Holmes said in Waikato's case the information does not include the time that patients wait for their first specialist assessment.

"Waikato District Health Board decided in April 2001 that it was in the best interests of the clinical management and treatment of its cancer patients that patients had a shorter time between their first specialist assessment with an oncologist and the start of radiation treatment."

"The patient waits longer for the first specialist assessment than at other cancer treatment centres but this wait is balanced by a shorter wait between assessment and radiation treatment."

"The Waikato information has been measured consistently since we began routinely releasing cancer waiting times information in December 1998 in response to public interest."


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