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Improved Cancer Treatment Relies On More Staff

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora warns cancer treatment in New Zealand will not improve without planning and action to fill gaps and boost the medical workforce.

In its first report the Cancer Control Agency, Te Aho o Te Kahu, identifies issues around an ageing cancer specialist workforce and the need to attract more trainees.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t reflect the pressure staff and departments are currently under, and the overall picture is more urgent,” says ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton.

“Oncology services in so many parts of the country are stretched and understaffed, resulting in delayed appointments and growing waiting times for patients. In some cases, the time from referral to treatment is 12 weeks, when it should be four weeks. You can imagine the anxiety that causes for someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis”.

“Radiation oncologists for example tell us that there is a yawning mismatch between the number of specialist positions funded by DHBs, relative to cancer patient demand”.

ASMS estimates oncology specialist shortages of around 24%. In addition, analysis by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists found that in the past decade about 50% of radiation oncology trainees are now working overseas.

“What makes it all the more frightening is that the need for cancer treatment is projected to rise significantly over the next 10-15 years, but there is no long-term or joined-up plan around how the workforce will keep up,” Sarah Dalton says.

“It’s all very well to have a plan to reduce cancer and an agency tasked with doing it, but you need trained people on the ground to deliver it”.

ASMS agrees the Cancer Control Agency report does provide a useful stocktake of cancer services.

“The focus on inequities for Māori is very welcome and ASMS fully supports any moves to promote a more diverse cancer workforce.

“We also welcome comments by the Health Minister today that the government plans to put more money into many areas of health, along with a clear acknowledgement that more effort needs to go into workforce planning”.

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