WARRNAMBOOL hospitals have launched a large-scale campaign to recruit cancer specialists to the region as increasing numbers of local patients are forced to travel to Geelong for treatment.
A joint push by South West Healthcare (SWH) and St John of God (SJOG) hopes to secure an oncologist for the Warrnambool Base Hospital by the middle of this year.
The campaign will result in every registered oncologist in Australia receiving an information packet promoting Warrnambool’s unique lifestyle.
Demand for services in Warrnambool has risen steadily, due partly to cancer patients living longer from improved treatments.
But specialist numbers have not kept up, creating heavy workloads for the south-west’s single cancer clinic which treats up to 600 new cases of cancer annually.
Warrnambool remains the regional centre for cancer care, despite a Geelong specialist visiting Portland, Hamilton and Colac once a month.
Warrnambool oncologist Doctor Terri Hayes told The Standard she was forced to stop taking on patients in December because of waiting times.
“Just after Christmas I closed my books for new patients because the next available appointment was in February, which is just unacceptable,” Dr Hayes said.
Previous efforts to fill an oncology position have been unsuccessful.
“We’ve been trying to recruit someone for three or four years and for some reason the oncologists aren’t coming,” she said.
“Cancer care is complicated, there are lots of side effects to monitor but more patients are living longer and that naturally increases the work load.”
Dr Hayes said there were also talks on whether patients could see oncologists through video link-up.
“It’s one of the things we’re discussing — can we use video conferencing to minimise patient travel,” Dr Hayes said.
SWH chief executive John Krygger said the advertised position would cater to both public and private hospitals.
“We have listed the current vacancy on the Medical Oncology Group of Australia website and are currently distributing information packs on Warrnambool to every registered oncologist in Australia,” Mr Krygger said.
He said there was also the possibility of academic appointment with Deakin Universities Medical School.
Dr Hayes said funding for a south-west integrated cancer care centre remained crucial to bringing another specialist to the region, explaining young graduates were choosing to work in established cancer care centres.
“I think the solution for recruiting another cancer doctor is to have a comprehensive and modern service.”