Breast cancer sufferers forced into mastectomies due to increasing radiation therapy delays, college of radiologists says

“I can look at all of the statistics and the numbers… which tell us that things are in a very serious state in radiation oncology in New Zealand but, at the end of the day, it’s the patient face. When I listen to stories like Allison’s and I see that distress, that anguish – that’s the real human cost of what we have here in New Zealand when we look at the gap between what’s actually required and what we can deliver in terms of timely access to radiation therapy.”

James said urgent action was needed or radiation oncology would cease to exist in New Zealand.

“We need to act now,” she said. “It takes five to 10 years to train a radiation oncologist so you’ve got that lag time. So, unless we get urgent action right now, we will not have a service.”

Te Whatu Ora/Health New Zealand, in a statement to AM, acknowledged the radiation oncology workforce was facing significant pressure.  

It said the Government was directing a coordinated response to those issues but admitted there was no quick fix.

Funding was available for 15 more radiology registrar trainee positions over the next three years, Te Whatu Ora said.

Further development for the cancer workforce would help respond to the long-term challenges associated with the growing demand for cancer care, it said.

“This will focus on achieving equity of access and to ensure we have the appropriate cancer workforce capacity and capability to align with changes to models of care and future needs of the cancer workforce. It is crucial to initiate this longer term work, and it is a priority focus for Te Aho o Te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency) in its engagement with Te Whatu Ora,” a spokesperson for the national health service said.

“Across the system, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand is actively leading on a range of initiatives the Government has announced that are focused on bolstering our health workforce.

“We’re training more doctors and nurses, and we’re supporting people who stepped up to work in the COVID-19 vaccination programme to enter the health workforce.

“We also acknowledge the work of our healthcare kaimahi who’re implementing on the ground system responses across the motu – every day with the sole aim of providing the highest level of care to their communities. The work you do is critical and valued,” the spokesperson said.

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