Page 1000 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 15 March 2005

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waiting, Mrs Millar chose to be treated in Wagga, a common destination for Canberra oncology patients.

Minister, what are the current waiting times for radiation therapy for breast cancer patients? How many patients have been referred to Wagga in the last 12 months? How is it possible for Wagga to be able to maintain a radiotherapy clinic that offers services within a clinically acceptable time frame when Canberra, under this government, is not able to?

MR CORBELL: The reason for that is that there is a radiation oncologist who has chosen to locate his business in Wagga and he has been able to attract a range of radiation oncologists to work with him in that location. We continue to work hard to recruit people for the ACT. Whilst members opposite may find it a little bit tedious or boring, the reality is that there is a range of work force shortages, including in radiation oncology.

The government is taking a range of steps to address this issue. For example, we have taken steps to recruit additional full-time radiation oncologists and we have recruited an additional full-time radiation oncologist in recent months. We now have three full-time radiation oncologists in the ACT. We recognise the need for a further oncologist position. That position is funded and an active recruitment program is under way.

Other issues that surround the delays in access to radiation oncology include the planning of radiotherapy treatments. At the moment, that process is quite slow and it is, of necessity, quite a complex activity. The current computerised planning system used for planning radiotherapy treatments is an old one and the government has committed funds to providing a new system, which will mean that the planning of radiotherapy treatments can occur more quickly. That will mean that more treatments can be provided within the same time frame.

This government is investing in the technology to make sure that more radiotherapy treatments can be planned more quickly, and that will mean that more actual treatments can be undertaken. We are recruiting more radiation oncologists and we have been successful in doing that to date.

Patients are classified according to the urgency of their requirement for radiotherapy. Urgent treatment means to receive treatment within 24 hours, semi-urgent within 23 days. Patients classified as non-urgent may wait up to eight or nine weeks. Arrangements are currently in place for approximately 12 to 15 non-urgent patients per month to receive radiation therapy outside the ACT. We are doing that to make sure that people get treatment within the clinically appropriate times. Only non-urgent patients are offered treatment outside the ACT. When such transfers occur, ACT Health is providing patients with support to ensure that those services are provided as smoothly as possible.

Our first priority is to make sure that people get treatment within the clinically appropriate times. If, for a range of national and international reasons, we are not able to recruit sufficient radiation oncologists, we will take steps to ensure that that treatment can be provided elsewhere within the clinically appropriate times. That must be at all times the first priority.

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