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Government Boosts Radiation Treatment Services

The Government is moving decisively to address the long-standing shortfalls in radiation therapy services, says health Minister Annette King.

"This year we increased funding for radiation therapy treatments by 14 percent - $31.9 million compared to $27.1 million last year. Next year we are planning to increase the capacity to provide more services.

"A new linear accelerator to provide radiation treatment is being installed at Waikato Hospital and we are commissioning three further linear accelerators to replace aging machines in Auckland, Palmerston North and Dunedin, Work is due to start on building protective bunkers to house the new machines in those centres within the next three months.

"In addition, in acknowledgement of the international shortage of skills in this area, the class size for radiation therapists has increased by 53 percent this year - from 17 in 1999/2000 to 28 in 2000/01. This will put us in a far stronger position to deal with long-term sustainability of these services.

In the meantime, national recruitment drives for radiation therapists, medical physicists and radiation oncologists have produced positive results.

"These activities demonstrate our determination to improve access to radiation therapy services. The previous Government had been warned as early as 1996 that urgent action was needed to address these issues. It is their mess that we are now having to tidy up," says Mrs King.

Auckland, Waikato and Christchurch wait times for Radiation Therapy treatment remain higher than expected due to staff shortages.

It is important to note that staff shortage in radiation Therapy is a worldwide issue with significant vacancy rates in all countries.

Some wait times are expected to reduce as Waikato brings additional equipment on line and Auckland recruitment process is showing positive results.

This Government is implementing a programme that is years overdue to build up the capacity of New Zealand's public health service to provide cancer patients with timely treatment.


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