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Cancer patients’ dangerous wait in Wellington

Hon Tony Ryall
National Party Health Spokesman

7 August 2006

Cancer patients’ dangerous wait in Wellington

Wellington cancer services are in crisis as patients wait more than twice the Ministry of Health standard to begin treatment, says National’s Health spokesman, Tony Ryall.

"Wellington patients are now waiting ten weeks to begin life-saving radiation treatment, and that is dangerous. And the Health Minister is doing nothing about it.”

DHB papers released to Mr Ryall under the Official Information Act show that Wellington patients will soon be sent to Christchurch and Dunedin for treatment.

The papers show that in June, cancer patients were waiting ten-and-a-half weeks to begin radiation treatment, although the Ministry of Health recommends treatment within four weeks. This is the longest wait since August 2004. Most patients affected are suffering from breast cancer and prostate cancer.

The papers also show that delays are forecast to grow over the coming months.

Emails show Wellington's Radiation Services head Professor David Lamb is frustrated with authorities refusing to deal with the issue: ‘We are in crisis NOW (sic) and projections show that it can only get worse’.

He says ‘so-called "non-urgent" patients (a term coined by the MOH) are presently starting RT 10-11 weeks after their treatment was booked, which is an absolute disgrace’.

Mr Ryall says cancer services in the capital have reached crisis point.

"It's clear from this information that the DHB and the Government have been aware of the growing waiting times for radiation therapy and nothing has been done to remedy the problem. Patients are suffering from that indifference, and medical staff are beside themselves with frustration.

"This is yet another example of squabbling DHBs being unable to provide vital equipment to help our cancer patients. A third linear accelerator is needed, but local DHBs are fighting over who will pay what. All the while cancer sufferers are waiting unacceptably long times for treatment. Some have chosen surgery rather than the risk of waiting.

"There is something seriously wrong with Labour's health system when squabbling bureaucrats can get away with putting so many lives at risk. We saw this pathetic DHB turf-warring only a few months ago with another piece of life-saving cancer equipment for Wellington.

"The Health Minister must step in and stop this appalling neglect.”

ENDS

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