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Bulge in waiting times for radiation therapy

27 March 2001 Media Statement

Bulge in waiting times for radiation therapy

Health Minister Annette King says latest Ministry of Health figures confirm an expected bulge in the number of patients waiting for cancer radiation treatment.

Mrs King said health officials expected a bulge in cancer treatment waiting lists in 2001 and 2002 because of increased demand for services, lack of planning in the past, a worldwide shortage of experienced staff, and aging hospital equipment.

Figures to the end of February show 53.4 percent of patients needing radiation therapy started treatment on time, while 16.5 percent had to wait four to six weeks and 30 percent had to wait more than six weeks. A year ago, the figures showed 75 percent of patients starting treatment on time, 17.5 percent waiting four to six weeks, and 7.5 percent more than six weeks.

"The increase in demand has arisen because new techniques and technology mean previously untreatable cancers can now be successfully treated. People who previously would have died from their cancers are now being treated."

Mrs King said the Ministry had increased funding for radiation therapy treatments by 14 percent to $31.9 million, compared with $27.1 million last year. Waikato District Health Board had also been flying acute patients to Australia for treatment, and a new linear accelerator was now up and running in Waikato.

"Another three linear accelerators are being commissioned to replace aging machines in Auckland, Palmerston North and Dunedin. The Ministry has also increased funding for radiation oncology training at the University of Otago, with the radiation therapist class size up 17 to 28 students.

"The trouble is, training therapists takes several years. Recruitment drives for radiation therapists, medical physicists and radiation oncologists have produced positive results, however, and it is expected the bulge will stabilise in the middle of this year, and then gradually improve. Waiting times are similar or worse elsewhere in the world because of increased demand and staff shortages.

"I was greatly encouraged last week when 18 representatives from the country's six oncology units met in Wellington and formed a Cancer Treatment Working Party in a bid to bring waiting lists down. We can only deal with this problem by the Government and the sector working together."


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