South-west cancer patients get more help at last

CANCER sufferers waiting up to a month to see specialists in the south-west can now be seen within days after an unprecedented increase in the region’s frontline resources to battle the disease. 

A south-west clinic has at last recruited an extra medical oncologist to address the south-west’s huge demand for cancer care while another temporary specialist has locked in plans to treat Warrnambool patients two days a week. 

Just two oncologists based in Warrnambool have been treating hundreds of patients from the south-west and South Australia. 

A green light for a south-west integrated cancer care centre and radiotherapy services has been crucial in luring the new experts to the region. 

Dr Ian Collins treated his first patients on Monday after arriving from the Peter MacCallum Centre in Melbourne. 

He told The Standard, impending construction of the centre was a key factor. 

“It certainly made it more attractive, the more patients get treated here the more we can treat them here. One of the risks of sending people to Geelong is that they don’t come back — they stay with their medical oncologist up there,” Dr Collins said.

“Warrnambool is getting bigger and the need for treating cancer is getting bigger.” 

St John of God and South West Healthcare launched a nationwide mail-out last year sending promotional material to oncology offices spruiking life in the south-west.  “I got about five people pass that onto me,” Dr Collins said. 

“I was aware of the job before that but it was a perfect fit from my point of view. Because I’m not Australian it’s a little harder to get work and because I have small kids Warrnambool is perfect.” 

For the past eight years doctors Terri Hayes and John Hounsell have been the region’s two experts. 

“It’s going to make a big improvement. When I was running the whole service on my own I couldn’t accommodate all the patients I was referred,” Dr Hayes said. 

“The waiting list got out to four weeks for a referral for an appointment. We’d then suggest they travel elsewhere just to be seen. 

“For three years it’s been up to that point but this week it’s pretty much immediate. It’s definitely the most oncologists we’ve had.” 

Fellow specialist Dr Oliver Klein has meanwhile decided to keep visiting Warrnambool on a permanent basis two days a week and will be able to support the city’s other oncologist Dr John Hounsell who works in haematology — blood cancers such as leukaemia. 

“It was initially a temporary arrangement but worked picked up and I really enjoy working here,” Dr Klein said. 

“I will definitely stay on for a few more years.” 

The tender for the cancer centre is expected to be opened soon.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was seeking interest from organisations to operate the service.

Peter’s Project campaigner Vicki Jellie said more specialists would consider moving to the south-west with the centre on the way. 

“This is fantastic. It’s been a drawcard with getting the cancer care centre,” Ms Jellie said yesterday. 

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