New centre is the best in regional health care

By BELINDA SCOTT

NSW Health is in the process of recruiting extra staff for Coffs Harbour's new radiotherapy unit, which hosted the opening of the North Coast Cancer Institute yesterday.

Verity Firth, the NSW Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), who opened the Institute, said Coffs Harbour now had one of the most sophisticated cancer services in NSW.

She said the radiotherapy unit in Coffs Harbour, which has a twin in Port Macquarie, was 'an amazing facility' because it had the very latest and best equipment.

It also has highly trained staff.

"It is definitely the best in regional NSW and ahead of most Sydney hospitals," she said.

Mrs Firth said thanks to the NSW Government's investment in radiotherapy, the state now had more linear accelerators per head of population than Victoria and Queensland and also more than Canada, France or the UK.

She said this was important since one in two men and one in three women would experience cancer by the age of 85 and radiotherapy was a recommended treatment for 50 per cent of cancers.

She said five-year survival rates for cancer in NSW were now among the best in the world.

Ms Firth paid tribute to the enormous amount of community involvement over the five years of the project.

Coffs Harbour City Council donated land for the project and community groups raised money for the patients and carers accommodation, Shearwater Lodge. The North Coast Cancer Institute covers not only radiotherapy, but chemotherapy, haematology and breast screening.

Stewart Dowrick, the executive director of corporate services for North Coast Area Health Service, said the five-year project had involved 51,000 'person hours' and 400 trucks of concrete, half of which has been used in the bunkers which house the linear accelerator.

The Minister said while it always took a while to get a new unit up and running to full efficiency, the unit was about to move from eight hours to 10 hours a day operation, they had managed to recruit two extra radiation oncologists, were in the process of recruiting extra staff and were completing a review into the efficiency of the unit.

North Coast Area Health Service manager Chris Crawford said more prostate cancer patients than expected were requiring treatment which took longer to treat and meant the number of treatment hours might have to be further expanded.

He said they had been working on projected numbers of prostate, breast and rectal cancers, but once they started having clinical figures they would have 'hard numbers' to work with.

Mr Crawford said although some people from outside the area were using the Coffs Harbour service, including some from Tamworth and Dubbo, the majority were from Macksville northwards.

Coffs Harbour Health Campus manager Margaret Bennett said close to 70 patients had already been treated at the Coffs Harbour radiotherapy unit so far.



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