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MRS CARNELL: Thank you very much. I am very pleased to answer that. The mix of sessional and fee-for-service contracts at this stage indicates that more than 60 per cent of VMOs at Woden Valley Hospital will be on sessional contracts. That is a substantial change from the previous situation, and I again state that that means that there will be a $2m saving to the ACT while keeping doctors at work, treating patients, with real efficiencies in the system. I believe that that is a good result, and so do the doctors. By the way, so do the people of Canberra. They did not like flying to Sydney because you could not solve a problem in two years. We have been here for seven weeks, and we have achieved a situation where all of the contracts are out now and more than 10 per cent are back. In two weeks, the rest of them will be back and the system will go on. But it will not be the old system; it will be a system that is more cooperative, one where the doctors are working with us to overcome the absolute mess that you left.

Hospital Outpatient Waiting Lists

MR MOORE: Mr Speaker, my question is to Mrs Carnell in her capacity as Minister for Health. Mrs Carnell, in the previous Assembly you made an artform of asking questions about hospital waiting lists. Just as important to some people are outpatient waiting lists. This is a critical issue particularly for people who have been diagnosed as suffering from cancer. What is the current waiting time for people who need to have radiotherapy treatment? How many people are currently waiting for radiotherapy? Do you have a record of people who refuse to wait and who choose to go to Sydney for treatment as an alternative? I point out, Mr Speaker, that I gave Mrs Carnell a couple of hours’ notice that I would be asking this question.

MRS CARNELL: Thank you very much. The issue of waiting times for radiotherapy is indeed a very important issue. When people have been diagnosed as having cancer their general state of mind is that they want treatment absolutely immediately, and it is actually true that we are not providing that treatment immediately. Currently, the situation is that an initial consultation will occur within two weeks - unless the doctor perceives it to be an urgent case, in which event the patient will be seen immediately. Once a patient has been seen by a specialist, the waiting time occurs for actual treatment, and that will depend on the clinical urgency as determined by the specialist. Emergency patients are seen the same day. For urgent patients, it is three to four days. The standard waiting time for non-urgent patients is three to four weeks. Personally, I wonder what a non-urgent patient who has been diagnosed as having cancer is, and I am very interested in the question from that perspective.

I am advised that, between the initial consultation and when the first treatment is actually scheduled, a planning procedure is put in place. So, a patient is taken through a week of planning what the treatment will be, what they can expect from that treatment and basically what they can expect from the whole process from here. I think that is a very appropriate approach, because it is a very worrying time for people. The time during which patients wait for treatment is not considered medically to be detrimental to their treatment, but I state again that I am not confident that it is not detrimental to them psychologically. On average, waiting times at Woden Valley Hospital are understood to be as good as, if not better than, at New South Wales metropolitan public hospitals.

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