St George's treats Auckland cancer patients

BY REBECCA TODD
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2010

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Auckland cancer patients will be flown to Christchurch for private radiotherapy while Canterbury patients wait up to six weeks for treatment.

St George's Hospital chief executive Tony Hunter said the Auckland District Health Board approached the private provider a week ago about radiation treatment for Auckland public patients. The hospital expected to start treating Aucklanders within a month.

The new contract was revealed yesterday, four days after Director-General of Health Stephen McKernan told Canterbury health chiefs that their cancer treatment waiting times were a concern.

He told the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) on Friday that Canterbury's preparation was "crucially important" to meeting a four-week target for radiotherapy by December. The target was now six weeks.

McKernan said Canterbury had struggled to meet targets.

Hunter said the new target would be "extremely challenging" for health boards.

He said the Canterbury board had approached St George's in June about radiotherapy work, but he had heard little since.

He was unsure how many Auckland patients St George's would treat or what resources would be left for Canterbury public patients.

"Logically, we would like to help out in the first instance our local board, but if another is keen to purchase services and are in need of them, obviously we will help," Hunter said.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition chairwoman Libby Burgess said health boards needed to plan carefully for high volumes of patients.

"Good on them [Auckland] for thinking ahead and getting that sorted. I just hope Canterbury can similarly sort out how to deal with all the women who need radiotherapy," she said.

Waiting for cancer treatment was stressful and patients should be assured that boards were "turning themselves inside out" to ensure they were treated in a timely manner, Burgess said.

CDHB chief executive David Meates told the board on Friday that meeting the four-week target would be "challenging".

He said yesterday the board was working through a range of options to meet its targets.

"The mix of possible options includes additional shifts, a fourth linear accelerator and potentially contracting some work out," he said.

A new linear accelerator, which is more efficient at delivering radiation treatment, was installed at Christchurch Hospital in May. Another is due to start operating in November.

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- The Press

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