5 Feb 2010

Cancer doctor vacancies 'a crisis'

11:20 pm on 5 February 2010

Cancer specialists have left public hospitals in New Zealand hospitals in recent months, amounting to what senior doctors and the Cancer Society describe as a crisis.

Wellington's Capital and Coast District Health Board is short of one medical oncologist and others have gone from Christchurch, Palmerston North, Waikato and Otago.

Cancer Society chief executive Dalton Kelly says some patients are having to wait longer for treatment.

Over-work, better jobs in the private sector or overseas, and retirement are behind the losses, he says.

The society is worried about the pressures on specialists as some hospitals struggle to replace staff who leave.

Mr Kelly says the Capital and Coast DHB has been looking for six months for an oncologist to replace Dr Peter Dady and more must be done to attract and retain specialists.

The head of the senior doctors' union, Ian Powell, says pay rates should be competitive with Australia.

Capital and Coast DHB says waiting times to see a cancer specialist are longer, but still acceptable, and patients are not at extra risk.

It began on Friday to phone patients to tell them when they will be seen, rather than notifying them by letter of appointment times.

The DHB's board says its specialists are working long hours to provide cover while a replacement specialist is found.

Meanwhile, Christchurch oncologist Chris Atkinson, who is leaving the public system to go private, says more medical students are needed to cope with the increasing amount of cancer in an ageing population.

The Ministry of Health says there are five vacancies nationwide and the situation is being managed well.