Cancer patients wait longer in Hunter

HUNTER cancer patients are enduring waits for surgery in the public system that are up to four times longer than people with the same conditions being treated in Sydney, data reveals.

The release of the cancer surgery waiting times on the federal government’s MyHospitals website yesterday confirms what many in the region already know: that the region is facing a cancer treatment crisis.

It follows a damning review of the region’s cancer services, made public in February, and concern that the state government is backing away from its promise to provide more money for services.

MyHospitals show the median wait for bowel cancer surgery at the Hunter’s major cancer treatment hospital, Calvary Mater Newcastle, is 37 days.

The number of admissions in 2010-11 for elective bowel cancer surgery for patients on the hospital’s waiting list was 28.

It does not include people on the waiting list admitted for emergency surgery, or people who had elective surgery without being placed on the waiting list.

At Royal Prince Alfred, a major cancer treatment hospital in Sydney, the median wait for bowel cancer surgery was 10 days, and the number of admissions 159.

Waits at Hunter hospitals ranged from eight days for melanoma surgery at Cessnock and bowel surgery at Maitland hospitals to 115 days for prostate cancer surgery at Belmont Hospital.

Cancer Council NSW Hunter North West regional manager Shayne Connell said the MyHospitals website confirmed what the region already knew: that the Hunter had much greater wait times than Sydney.

Addressing the problem of the Hunter falling behind the rest of the state was a matter for Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

‘‘It’s not about the internal organisation of how we allocate our funds,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s about not having the resources to meet the demand in the first place.’’

Former Mater medical staff council chairman Aidan Foy, who has campaigned for better cancer services for the region, said there were yawning gaps in Hunter services.

Mrs Skinner said yesterday in a statement that she had not backed away from her previous commitment around funding for the Hunter region.

‘‘But it is inappropriate for me to comment on the budget before it is handed down on 12 June,’’ she said.

Mrs Skinner said she was aware of the demand for cancer services in the Hunter.

However responsibility rested with Hunter New England Local Health District, she said.

Hunter New England Health acute networks operations director Todd McEwan said in a statement that the data on the MyHospitals website was 12 to 18 months old.

In the first four months of this year, most cancer patients were receiving surgeries within timeframes their clinician deemed suitable Mr McEwan said.

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