29 May 2024

Advocacy group calls for transparency regarding radiotherapy service feasibility report, costing

| Marion Williams
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Local radiotherapy service petition being presented to Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips

Local radiotherapy service petition being presented to Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips by Mylene Boulting, ONE New Eurobodalla Hospital group, and Peter Van Bracht, Can Assist Bega Valley Shire. Photo: Supplied.

A Eurobodalla advocacy group is concerned that NSW Health remains reluctant to include a local radiotherapy service (LRS) in the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital precinct plans. They want to see Professor Mick Reid’s independent feasibility report on local access to radiotherapy in the region. They also want to see the costing of an LRS. They said the rumoured $100 million cost, if correct, was “overinflated”. They are calling for public transparency into NSW Health’s decision processes.

The ONE New Eurobodalla Level 4 Regional Hospital Advocates Group began its campaign for the hospital in 2018. The group subsequently launched a dedicated petition for an LRS that received 5500 signatures from across the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley shires. Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland presented it to NSW Parliament in October 2022.

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The NSW Government of the time promised an independent expert’s review into the issue. It never eventuated. With the change of government, NSW Health commissioned Professor Reid to produce a report. He finished it in September 2023. It is now with NSW Health Minister Ryan Park.

Retired GP Dr Arn Sprogis said the evidence showed that long distance travel to a radiotherapy unit for cancer treatment decreased access and increased poor outcomes, including death rates. He said while the radiotherapy process was very short, the current travel time for most Far South Coast patients was far too long. “LRS is the solution,” he said.

NSW Health’s website said in August 2020, Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) undertook a comprehensive process to determine the safety and viability of establishing radiation therapy services on the South Coast (Bega/Moruya). The process found there was not a sufficient population base in the area to support a viable, high quality public radiation service. Potential partnerships with private providers also lacked evidence of affordability, sustainability and quality.

ONE advocate Mylene Boulting with Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Dr Arn Sprogis.

ONE advocate Mylene Boulting with Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Dr Arn Sprogis. Photo: Supplied.

Yet the 2021 Census data showed that Eurobodalla’s median age was 54 versus the state median of 39. The percentage of Eurobodalla residents with cancer was 4.9 per cent compared with 2.8 per cent across NSW.

ONE advocates Fitzroy and Mylene Boulting pointed to Dubbo where an LRS was built in 2021. The Dubbo local government area’s population of 54,922 compared with 40,953 in Eurobodalla (or 76,535 including Bega Valley shire). The median age in Dubbo was 36 and the incidence of cancer was 2.9 per cent. Dubbo had 1586 residents with cancer compared with 2008 in Eurobodalla (3533 including Bega Valley).

The Boultings are concerned about the delay in releasing the independent report. “It is the unwillingness to share the document used to support the decision-making that worries us,” they said.

In a statement, SNSWLHD said the report was being used to inform internal planning. “Release of the report may be considered following the conclusion of this planning.”

Another issue was the lack of transparency around the cost of an LRS. “The community has the right to see the claimed costing of the radiotherapy centre for the hospital project,” they said.

Lipman charged $24 million to design and construct the Dubbo facility. In total the state and federal governments invested $35 million to develop the Western Cancer Centre Dubbo.

Panellists at a community Q&A on the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital in Narooma

Panellists at a community Q&A on the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital in Narooma on 30 April included Brad Scotcher of Southern NSW Local Health District, Dr Stuart Stapleton, Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Eurobodalla shire mayor Mat Hatcher. Photo: Marion Williams.

Mr and Ms Boulting said the rumoured costing might reach $100 million because it involved building two bunkers to ensure continuity of service. “However, we understand the report clearly points out that the new technology’s reliability means LRS centres no longer need a back-up unit to function efficiently,” they said.

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In a statement Dr Holland said he had consistently advocated for the provision of radiation oncology services within the Bega electorate.

“As a consequence of my advocacy, NSW Health engaged an external consultant who worked with the Cancer Institute NSW and key stakeholders to produce a report. The Ministry of Health is engaging with the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care about the recommendations and is waiting on a further response.”

In a statement, Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain said the Australian Government was committed to ensure communities like the Eden-Monaro electorate had access to essential health and medical services, including specialist treatments like radiation therapy. It has committed $8 million for the expansion of cancer treatment services to the Eurobodalla. “I am very supportive and vocal about the need for improved access to healthcare in Eden-Monaro, including to the Federal Health Minister.”

NSW Health did not respond to a question about the costing of an LRS.

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