Cancer set to spike 

NEW cancer cases in the Hunter New England district are expected to increase by about 30 per cent in less than a decade, with a major impact on services and the medical workforce, the region’s latest cancer strategy says.

The  health district’s plan for cancer services to 2016 has been endorsed by its board, setting out  its aims to meet the  demand driven by an ageing population and improved screening and diagnosis. 

The five-year plan said the Hunter New England District had the largest number of new cancer cases in the state, and that  would increase by about 30per cent by 2021.

It follows a review released this year of medical oncology services in the region that found a shortfall of at least four full-time medical oncologists and unacceptable waiting times for treatment, prompting some clinicians to call for urgent extra funding.

The plan points to the need to redesign cancer services to integrate care, reduce ‘‘inappropriate variation in patient outcomes’’ across the district, and develop a workforce that meets  patients’ needs. 

‘‘We need to be confident that wherever a patient may be and whatever the nature of their cancer is that they’re going to receive appropriate service at the best standard that is possible,’’ district cancer services director Tony Proietto said.

But Labor’s health spokesman Andrew McDonald said the plan should spell out what changes would be made given ‘‘they’re having trouble coping now’’ with demands on resources and ‘‘people want specifics’’.

‘‘If they’re going to have a 30per cent increase in demand they’re going to have to have a 30per cent increase in services. The question is which beds, which surgeons, where, and they haven’t answered that,’’ Dr McDonald said.

During 2010-11, the region’s outpatient services handled 65,015 instances of radiation oncology consultations and radiotherapy, and 42,442 instances of medical oncology consultations and chemotherapy. There were 16,140 inpatient admissions for cancer treatment.

Hunter New England Local Health District said two oncologists – the equivalent of a full-time position – would start in the new year.

District chief executive Michael DiRienzo said wait times for treatment had improved significantly  after  recommendations from the review were implemented. The wait-time to see an  oncologist at Calvary Mater Newcastle had halved to 21 days.

Mr DiRienzo did not say how much the plan would cost to implement, but that the first-year requirements would be met within the current budget.