Long waits for cancer patients

CANCER patients on the Coffs Coast are waiting more than a week for diagnoses because of a critical shortage of pathologists.

A spokesperson for North Coast Area Health Service said the Coffs Harbour public pathology service undertook 84,500 patient 'episodes' a year, with patients sometimes waiting up to 10 days for a diagnosis.

“Most NCAHS patients would, at some stage of their treatment, have tests performed by the pathology service, with over 70 per cent of all clinical decisions based on results or diagnoses from the pathology service,” the spokesperson said.

“Diagnostic reports on tissue samples, such as biopsies, are usually available in two to four days but up to seven to ten days for more complex cases requiring specialised strains or second opinions.”

That's too long, according to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, who claim the waiting time is because of a critical shortage of pathologists.

CEO Dr Debra Graves said the State Government had been warned of the looming shortage five years ago and the failure to create new places was contributing to long waits in Coffs Harbour.

“People with cancer, particularly in rural areas, are waiting between two and four weeks before starting their treatment,” Dr Graves said.

“With a cancer diagnosis, the turnaround time should be 24 to 48 hours.”

The NCAHS said despite recruitment efforts, there is a difficulty in attracting suitably qualified pathologists to the region.

“NCAHS is combating the difficulty by working with Queensland Health to provide a cross border service, merging services with the Pacific Laboratory Medicine Services, and a commitment to placing pathologists where the clinical need is the greatest, including Coffs Harbour,” the spokesperson said.

More than 90 per cent of all information in electronic medical records relates to pathology.

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