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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (19 June) . . Page.. 2130..


MR STANHOPE (continuing):

so; we are consulting today on some of the finer detail. This has been an open and consultative process, hence some of my surprise at some of what I regard as misinformation about the government's position on and attitude to this issue. It was being broadcast-as I indicated yesterday, it is quite distressing-and relayed to my office by clients of obstetricians, who were quite understandably distressed by the threats that their obstetricians were making and that they did not stand ready to assist them in delivery.

Radiation oncologists

MRS BURKE

: My question is to the Minister for Health, Mr Corbell. I refer to the report in the Canberra Times that the new chief executive officer of Health, Dr Sherbon, had said that it was unacceptable that cancer patients had to seek treatment interstate because there was a shortage of radiation oncologists in the ACT. Minister, do you stand by the comments of your chief executive officer? What specific action are you taking to address this situation?

MR CORBELL

: Yes, I do, because Dr Sherbon was simply indicating that we do face a challenge and a shortage of the necessary specialist staff to provide radiation therapy for people in the ACT suffering cancer. This is not a new issue, Mr Speaker; it has been around for some time. The reason that it has been around is that there is a national and, indeed, international shortage of specialists, of radiation oncologists and radiation therapists, which means that it has been difficult for the ACT to retain the necessary level of radiation oncologists and radiation therapists.

Currently, there are 13.9 full-time equivalent radiation therapists employed in the ACT's public hospital system against an existing establishment of 20, so you can see that there is a shortage of the necessary staff. The ACT has four positions available for radiation oncologists, but only two are currently filled. However, a locum has been arranged from the end of June to October this year and a third radiation oncologist should return from leave without pay in November, which will provide some additional capacity to supply services to people needing that form of treatment.

National and international action is continuing to recruit additional radiation oncologists. At present a consultation with a radiation oncologist may not take place for up to four weeks. I should stress that waiting times for the commencement of radiation therapy are still being handled on the basis of priority. Patients considered as clinically urgent, category one, are still receiving treatment immediately. Those classified as semi-urgent have a median waiting time of 171/2 days and those classified as standard, or category three, have a maximum waiting time of 72 days. The median waiting time for all categories is only 26 days and 80 people are currently waiting for that treatment.

This is an ongoing issue for the government. The government has addressed this issue in terms of recruitment and the rates of pay available to both radiation oncologists and radiation specialists, but the ACT, like many other jurisdictions, continues to struggle with the shortage in the work force and the implication that has for the treatment of people in the ACT suffering cancer.

MRS BURKE

: I thank the minister for his answer and note his activities to try to improve the situation. Given the Chief Minister's acknowledgment of his over-the-top


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