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Latest Oncology Waiting Times - June

Media Statement

20 August 2002

Latest Oncology Waiting Times - June

Latest radiation treatment statistics released by the Ministry of Health today show a sharp reduction in waiting times for people treated in June compared with previous months.

Ministry of Health spokesman Dr Rob Buist said out of the six cancer centres, Auckland, MidCentral, Canterbury and Otago, all reported improved waiting times.

"The most striking improvement was in the largest cancer centre, Auckland, where just two percent of patients waited more than six weeks for radiation treatment, compared with 27 percent in May and 59 percent in January.

Auckland, which referred 70 patients for treatment to Australia over the past year, is now able to treat patients in the region.

Dr Buist said to date, delays in cancer treatment throughout New Zealand have mainly occurred in the period of time between assessment by a radiation oncology specialist, and starting radiation treatment.

"These delays were due to a shortage of radiation therapists."

However, in Waikato, delays in cancer treatment have mainly occurred in the period of time between referral for treatment, and assessment by a radiation oncology specialist.

"The total time from referral to treatment was up to 15 weeks for some patients and the delays were due to a shortage of oncologists."

The Ministry of Health is concerned about the issue and is discussing with the New Zealand Cancer Treatment Working Party the feasibility of all cancer centres routinely providing the Ministry with statistics on the time between referral and assessment in addition to the statistics on the time between assessment and treatment.

Waikato District Health Board has started providing the Ministry with both sets of statistics.

Waikato referred nine patients to Australia for treatment last month to help relieve the pressure.

"Auckland is also working with Waikato District Health Board examining ways in which it can help relieve pressure in Waikato until three newly recruited oncologists start in about four months time. "

Dr Buist said all of New Zealand's cancer centres had been working to capacity. He acknowledged the effort which saw some staff working long hours over extended periods. This had led to an overall improvement in waiting times for radiation treatment. However, he cautioned that for some time, waiting times would be sensitive to small changes in staffing levels.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has extended the programme of referral of selected patients to Australia to help relieve pressure on the New Zealand system until the current recruitment and training initiatives provide a more sustainable solution.


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