Getting cancer is bad enough but it’s worse if you happen to live in the central North Island

So my advice to you, young man, is to persuade your parents to stay here in Zimbabwe and not emigrate to Palmerston North.

Alf is braced for a hard time, next time he turns up at the Eketahuna Club.

He has been badly let down by his colleague, Tony Ryall, our Minister of Health.

Ryall declined to be questioned on Radio NZ’s Summer Report this morning about a shortage of oncologists and the axing of chemotherapy for some patients by the central North Island cancer treatment service.

Under the new rules, MidCentral District Health Board no longer will accept referrals for patients who are less likely to benefit from the treatments.

Less likely to benefit?

Who will make this life-or-death decision?

Oh, yes. Doctors.

This is deeply disturbing.

Doctors are the people who – in Alf’s experience – often tell someone they have just a few months to live, and a few years later those patients are still very much alive.

In other cases, of course, the doctors fail to diagnose the cancer in the first place.

Thus the news for people who live in a big chunk of the North Island is grim.

Stuff brought the matter to Alf’s attention this morning –

MidCentral District Health Board said it would no longer accept referrals for patients who were less likely to benefit from the treatments, Radio New Zealand reported.

Two of its five medical oncologist positions are vacant and the situation is not expected to improve in the next six months.

The DHB has told the Whanganui, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Tairawhiti boards that it will no longer offer chemotherapy for 14 types of cancer.

Instead of patients being put on waiting lists, they will be referred back to their own doctors.

This sounds suspiciously like the sounding of a death knell.

The bloody doctor would have sent them for specialist care in the first place because he or she can’t provide it.

Radio NZ fleshed things out by talking to some bloke about the shortage of oncologists and the vacant posts.

Chief medical officer Kenneth Clark says there is interest from overseas in the positions, but he does not anticipate any improvement in the next six months.

The DHB has told the Whanganui, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Tairawhiti boards that it will no longer offer chemotherapy for 14 types of cancer.

Things are looking less than ideal elsewhere, too, according to Summer Report.

The Cancer Society says New Zealand is competing with other countries for specialists and its chief executive, Dalton Kelly, says most regions are struggling to recruit cancer specialists. Moreover, they risk ‘burning out’ the ones they have.

About 18,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year, but there are only 60 oncologists nationwide.

The waiting list for chemotherapy at Capital & Coast BHD has been 100 patients at times, as the board tries to replace a doctor who left almost two years ago.

But Medical Association chairman Peter Foley said the shortage of oncologists is part of a larger crisis in medical recruitment in this country.

Alf and his mates are of an age that increases their prospects of being smitten with cancer.

They would be expecting something more encouraging from Tony Ryall – who is paid a handsome salary to be our Minister of Health – than his disinclination to comment.

They were entitled to more, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: