Specialist to help ease wait times

Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor

Princess Margaret Hospital has a new gastroenterologist but admits it needs more staff as figures reveal children with the most urgent complaints still wait almost seven weeks to be seen.

September figures show priority-one gastroenterology patients waited an average 47 days to be seen at the outpatient clinic - 50 per cent longer than the recommended 30-day maximum - and category-two patients waited an average 16 weeks.

But waiting times have improved since a year ago, when some children waited up to a year to be assessed because of an acute shortage of gastroenterologists.

It prompted the State Government to launch an urgent recruitment drive for specialists.

The hospital says progress has been made after finding a gastroenterologist to fill a vacant position but it will have to take on more staff.

A spokeswoman said PMH expected waiting times to improve further with a new part-time gastroenterologist due to start this month.

Another 0.5 full-time equivalent position was in the appointment process and PMH was optimistic about appointing someone early next year.

The Australian Medical Association welcomed the recent addition of a specialist but said it was clear more were needed to keep up with demand in the highly specialised area.

WA president Richard Choong said gastroenterology was historically a difficult specialty to staff, which led to long delays for patients to be assessed and treated.

"The fact PMH has managed to find someone recently and is close to more appointments is good news and very encouraging," he said.

"This is an area of medicine that is very specific and there are many conditions that need to access its services, but it's a classic example of where there just aren't enough people to do the jobs required."

Dr Choong said as a result many children were waiting too long, often in pain and discomfort, to be diagnosed and treated.

"What I really hope is that the hospital will be able to recruit the extra staff it needs so children can be seen even more quickly," he said.