‘Shameful and criminal’: Long waiting lists for Otago cancer patients

More people than ever in the South are waiting for cancer treatment, as waiting lists reach lengths never before experienced.

Last week, the waiting list for radiation oncology treatment was 157 people, a situation oncologist and Southern District Health Board member Lyndell Kelly told a board committee meeting was criminal.

“That is the highest it has ever been … it is shameful that we are in this situation and we have been crying out for help for a long time and I am glad that it is being taken seriously now.”

The Otago-Southland division of the Cancer Society was equally horrified, and acting chief executive Bob King said he knew the waiting list was long but the actual figure was far worse than he had expected.

DHBs monitor two different cancer treatment targets, a person with a confirmed diagnosis receiving their first treatment within 31 days, and a person referred with a high suspicion of cancer having their first treatment or other management within 62 days.

SDHB specialist services executive director Patrick Ng said the SDHB’s cancer treatment rates had deteriorated and it was behind target in both categories but he believed the board’s performance in the 31-day measurement could be turned around.

“The 62-day performance is more concerning.”

The waiting list was too high and should be about 70.

Access to medical imaging such as CT and MRI scans was an issue, as was staffing, Ng said.

Attempts to recruit a new radiation oncologist had been unsuccessful, and the board now hoped to attract Australian staff across the Tasman to take up locum positions.

“If we are unsuccessful in that then the fallback is that we will have to outsource.”

That would come at a cost to the SDHB, he said.

Kelly said the SDHB had some of the worst cancer treatment waiting list figures in the country, and people were waiting.”Some people were having to wait six to eight weeks for a CT scan in Dunedin and then another two weeks for a PET (positron emission tomography) CT scan in Christchurch,” Kelly said.

“We rebelled and said we would not do that, because it’s criminal to expect people to wait two months to find out how extensive their cancer is.”

Last week, the Otago Daily Times reported King’s concern that cancer treatment waiting lists were on the rise.

Yesterday, he said Kelly’s revelation was far worse than the Cancer Society had anticipated.

“It is sad to see the actual numbers come out way ahead of what we thought they were and it is very concerning for the people waiting in line to access treatment. It puts them and their families in an invidious position.”

An early diagnosis and early treatment were critical for any chance to successfully treat cancer. Delays were harming people, he said.

“It is incredibly hard on people and something needs to be done to address that waiting list … it appears that whatever they are doing is failing to address the fundamental problem of waiting lists.”

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