Skinner backs away from Hunter cancer treatment promise

HEALTH Minister Jillian Skinner seems to have backed away from a promise of more money to tackle the Hunter Region’s cancer treatment crisis.

Responding to criticism in February about government silence over a damning independent review of cancer services, Mrs Skinner said she would ‘‘ensure that future budgets’’ provided more funding to the region.

But she would not repeat the commitment in response to an appeal last week from Calvary Mater Newcastle director of medical oncology Tony Bonaventura for urgent government funding.

Instead, she said Hunter New England Health was responsible for allocating cancer services money from within its budget, according to its cancer plan.

A new Hunter cancer plan for 2016-20, which outlined a gradual increase in medical oncology (chemotherapy) staff, was ‘‘too slow, too little and has no committed funding’’, Dr Bonaventura told Mrs Skinner.

The region has a recognised shortfall of at least four chemotherapists. An independent review found chemotherapy treatment was a ‘‘system under strain’’, with ‘‘clearly unsatisfactory’’ waiting times.

In a media statement after she received Dr Bonaventura’s appeal, Mrs Skinner said she appreciated ‘‘the need to meet demand for cancer services in the Hunter, and understand that Hunter New England Local Health District is working to address this issue closely in its five year cancer services plan’’.

Mrs Skinner’s response surprised Cancer Council NSW regional manager Shayne Connell.

‘‘Only three months ago Minister Skinner told the Hunter that an increase in chemotherapy services was ‘only the beginning’ because she would ensure the state government would help us meet our demand for cancer services,’’ he said.

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