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Oncologists Shortage Shows Health Sector Mismanagement

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Ruth Dyson
Ruth Dyson

Wellington, Jan 3 NZPA - A shortage of oncologists forcing the central North Island cancer treatment service to axe chemotherapy for some patients shows the Government's mismanagement of the health sector, Labour health spokeswoman Ruth Dyson says.

MidCentral District Health Board said it would no longer accept referrals for patients who were less likely to benefit from the treatments, Radio New Zealand reported.

Two of its five medical oncologist positions are vacant and the situation is not expected to improve in the next six months.

The DHB has told the Whanganui, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Tairawhiti boards that it will no longer offer chemotherapy for 14 types of cancer. Instead of patients being put on waiting lists, they will be referred back to their own doctors.

"This unacceptable scenario will cause considerable distress to patients diagnosed with cancer, who will want to know exactly when their treatment will begin," Ms Dyson said.

"It is uncaring and shows a complete mismanagement of the health sector."

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the staff shortage at MidCentral was of concern to him, and the ministry and DHB were seeking spare capacity at other cancer centres to accommodate patients.

"I am advised the DHB is hopeful of recruiting additional specialists soon."

He said in the past two years, despite an international oncologist shortage, publicly funded chemotherapy clinics have increased 25 percent, to just over 57,000 outpatients sessions in public hospitals in the 2009/2010 year.

"The increase in chemotherapy volumes is mainly due to a larger number of people getting extra courses of chemotherapy treatment, and the introduction of new drugs, rather than an increase in the total number of new cancer cases."

Mr Ryall said demand for medical oncology services will continue to increase and put pressure on public hospitals.

"To meet that demand, we have commissioned the Ministry of Health to look at how New Zealand can provide more and faster chemotherapy for the future through a smarter use of existing cancer networks," he said.

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