Doctors warn of cancer care crisis
Archie Caldow.

Senior doctors have warned of a crisis in cancer care for WA children, claiming some staff at Princess Margaret Hospital are at breaking point and planning to resign because of workforce shortages and a lack of equipment.

They warned yesterday that services, including radiation oncology, were critically understaffed because of a lack of forward planning by successive governments and administrators.

The West Australian revealed this week the plight of three-year-old cancer patient Archie Caldow, who is one of three PMH patients who have to travel interstate for radiation therapy.

They cannot have their treatment in Perth during the next two months because the State's only paediatric specialist Dr Mandy Taylor is taking a month leave after not having a holiday for seven years.

It is understood the problem of having a single paediatric radiation oncologist has been flagged as a "significant risk" in audits for several years but has not been addressed.

Some doctors have become so frustrated they have urged parents of their patients to speak out or complain to politicians.

Australian Medical Association WA spokesman Dave Mountain said there was growing disenchantment among doctors who were prevented from speaking out publicly and many were at breaking point.

"Through our industrial arm we have been hearing of major issues with staff being unable to take leave, or taking leave and being called back because the services are just unable to cope," he said.

"These issues have been brewing for a long time but no one has been listening to the warnings and getting on and doing something about them.

"It's a basic resource issue and people have been telling governments for the past 10 years that WA's cancer services are absolutely under-resourced and being overwhelmed by population growth."

Dr Mountain said doctors were desperate to provide the best care for their patients but this was being compromised constantly by the lack of resources, including equipment, being made to work career-destroying hours and being unable to take leave.

The doctors' concerns come 10 months after the Cancer Council WA and senior cancer specialists warned of critical staff shortages. They said the State Government would need an extra 16 medical oncologists, 10 radiation oncologists and four haematologists in the next five years.

In May, the Government agreed to fund two new radiation oncologists.

A spokeswoman for Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, which co- ordinates State cancer services, including those at PMH, acknowledged workforce shortages but said they were being resolved through active recruitment.

"Demand for radiation services continues to increase and there is a shortage of radiation oncologists throughout Australia and overseas," she said.

"We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our staff who provide the highest levels of care to patients."

The spokeswoman said Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital reviewed the need for equipment regularly and was looking forward to new state-of-the-art facilities with the opening of the new cancer centre at the hospital early next year.

The West Australian

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