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New linear accelerator unveiled at Southern DHB - Speech

Hon Tony Ryall

Minister of Health

23 August  2013       Speech notes       

New linear accelerator unveiled at Southern DHB

I’m very pleased to be here today to unveil Southern DHB’s third and newest linear accelerator, the TrueBeam.

This $6.3 million machine is the 10th linear accelerator approved since 2009.

As many of you here today will be aware, linear accelerators deliver high energy radiation, otherwise known as radiotherapy, to patients as part of their treatment for cancer.

The TrueBeam replaces Southern DHB’s eighteen year old linear accelerator, and will increase the capacity of radiotherapy at Southern DHB to meet the current and future needs of South Island cancer patients.

I would like to thank all the staff at Southern DHB who have made installing the TrueBeam possible. 

It took 15 months to remove the old machine, extensively remodel the bunker, and install and test the new machine. 

During this period, staff at the Southern Blood and Cancer Centre worked extended hours and weekend shifts on the two remaining linear accelerators to ensure all patients ready for radiation therapy were treated within four weeks.

Some part time radiation therapists offered to work full time - I’ve even heard that one staff member volunteered to come back during her parental leave to help.

TrueBeam Technology

The TrueBeam is the most technologically advanced of Southern DHB’s three linear accelerators.

It offers pinpoint accuracy, causing less damage to surrounding tissue, thanks to the new 4-dimensional tilting couch. Like other treatment couches, the TrueBeam can go up and down, left and right.  The TrueBeam also has a tilt function so patients can be positioned perfectly for precise beam delivery.

The TrueBeam also has a greater range of beam energies and increased dose rates, which reduces the time the patient is on the treatment couch. 
Because of its impressive specifications, the TrueBeam is expected to become the main treatment unit for the National Stereotactic Service extending both the range and capacity of the service into the future.

The addition of the TrueBeam to the suite of linear accelerators at Southern DHB continues a tradition of delivering treatment of the highest quality not only to the Southern population but also beyond this population base.

Reduce radiotherapy wait times

Reducing the wait times for radiotherapy is a key priority for the government. We have seen waiting times for radiation treatment reduce from up to 18 weeks to a maximum of four weeks.

The shorter waits for cancer treatment national health target expects that all patients, ready-for-treatment, receive radiotherapy or chemotherapy within four weeks.

Southern DHB has consistently achieved the cancer treatment target since quarter four of 2009/10.  And I commend you for continuing to achieve this target while installing the TrueBeam, which I understand was challenging at times.

Faster Cancer Services

Cancer is one of our biggest killers, and the fear of cancer weighs heavily on the minds of all New Zealanders. This Government wants to ensure all New Zealanders with cancer have access to the best possible care.

Improving the timeliness and access to services for cancer patients is important. If it takes too long for a patient with suspected cancer to receive treatment, this may affect their outcome and cause unnecessary stress for them and their families.

That’s why this Government has allocated $33 million over four years in the 2012 budget to implement the Faster Cancer Treatment programme and further reduce wait times for patients.

The aim of the programme is to improve services so all patients will have access to the same quality care within the same timeframes, no matter where they live.

Faster Cancer Treatment indicators have been established which set out the timeframes for patients, with a high suspicion of cancer, to access services along the cancer diagnosis and treatment pathway.

In the past it has been difficult to measure how long it took for patients to see a specialist from the time their doctor suspects they have cancer and refers them to a specialist, to the start of their first cancer treatment.

Prior to the introduction of these indicators, there was no national approach to collecting this information, and district health boards were collecting and reporting data in different ways. The lack of consistent information made it difficult to see where improvements could be made.

Since January this year, district health boards have been collecting data and measuring their performance against indicators that set out the maximum length of time patients with a high suspicion of cancer should wait to access diagnostic and treatment services. 

These indicators are internationally established and provide a goal for district health boards to achieve over time. The three indicators are:
•      The 62 day indicator: all patients referred urgently with a high-suspicion of cancer receive their first treatment (or other management) within 62 days of the referral being received by the hospital.
•      The 14 day indicator: all patients referred urgently with a high-suspicion of cancer have their first specialist assessment within 14 days of the referral being received by the hospital.
•      The 31 day indicator: all patients with a confirmed diagnosis of cancer receive their first cancer treatment (or other management) within 31 days of a decision-to-treat.

It’s important to remember that many important investigations and diagnostic procedures are completed during the time period for each indicator, but patients who require more urgent access to services and treatment will receive it sooner.

Data collected and reported by DHBs against the indicators is currently variable, but it is improving. Soon we will get a clearer picture of how well cancer services are meeting these goals, and identifying any bottlenecks.

These are not targets, they are indicators – we are working towards them and this will take some years. 

Cancer nurse coordinators

The faster cancer treatment project also includes the establishment of cancer nurse coordinator positions to improve patient outcomes by coordinating care for patients with cancer, and facilitate timely diagnosis and initiation of treatment.

54 cancer nurse coordinators have been appointed across all 20 district health boards in full-time and part-time roles.  Southern DHB has appointed 2.6 FTE cancer nurse coordinators across three positions. 

These nurses act as a single point of contact so patients and their families no longer have to deal with multiple people from different parts of the health service.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a difficult time for patients and their families. This more personalised service will mean better treatment and a less stressful experience for patients.

Research shows some cancer patients can come into contact with up to 28 doctors, and even more nurses, throughout their treatment. This expands what is already happening in parts of the country, and the feedback from patients has been very positive.

Cancer service improvement activities

Other work is taking place to further reduce waiting times throughout a patient’s treatment.

The tumour standards have been developed for eight tumour types by clinically led working groups. The aim of the standards is to promote uniform service provision across New Zealand by setting out best practice management of specific tumour types.

The lung cancer standards have already led to improvements in service delivery and clinical practice including establishing rapid access to important diagnostic tests and highlighting the need for better access to endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS).

The Ministry is working with the regional cancer networks and DHBs to improve the functionality and coverage of multidisciplinary meetings.

Radiation treatment capacity

In 2011/12, Southern DHB, alongside Canterbury DHB and St George’s, undertook regional linear accelerator capacity planning. The new TrueBeam will ensure that Southern DHB has the capacity to treat patients needing radiotherapy now, and into the future. 

With the long lead in time to acquire linear accelerators, and the workforce needed to run them, the Ministry of Health is now undertaking national service planning for radiation oncology services.

The Ministry is undertaking work to develop a National Radiation Oncology Plan. The Plan will provide advice to DHBs on how to ensure there is an appropriately skilled workforce and sufficient linear accelerators for future radiotherapy service delivery.

The National Radiation Oncology Plan is expected to be completed by the end of this calendar year.

Close

Thank you for inviting me here today.  I look forward to your continued achievement of the cancer treatment target.

ENDS

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