Shortage of cancer specialists looming

Health boards are failing to attract and keep radiation cancer specialists, with the Ministry of Health warning of a serious shortage as cancer patient numbers are tipped to rise steeply over the next decade.

A growing and ageing population meant the number of people with cancer would increase by almost a third in the next decade, according to a ministry report published yesterday.

By 2022, there would be a shortfall across the country of seven radiation oncologists, 30 medical physicists, and 25 radiation therapists, the report said.

Medical physicists, who specialise in the therapeutic application of radiation and the equipment involved, were especially scarce.

Only three were trained in New Zealand each year, and an extra six would be needed every year to cope with patient demand in 10 years, the report said.

"Increased efforts on retention of new graduates and of existing staff are essential," it said.

Since 2009, six of 13 medical physicist graduates had gone straight overseas.

The problem came down to salaries - health boards did not pay what medical physicists could earn overseas, said Deborah Powell, secretary of the Apex union.

In the next month there would be a survey of medical physicists who have left their positions to look at their reasons, a spokesman from Health Workforce NZ said.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the ministry would help boards manage radiation services.

"We want to ensure New Zealanders continue to receive high quality oncology services . . . in a timely way."

The Dominion Post