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"We are getting negative press associated with being the ‘worst performer for cancer in the country’," SDHB specialist services executive director Patrick Ng said in an email to staff.
"I think it is important that we understand our actual underlying performance compared to others."
Mr Ng’s May memo was prompted by a question in the public-excluded section of the board’s hospital advisory committee meeting.
He said there had been "some frustration" expressed about how the SDHB counted the 62-day cancer treatment target — the maximum time in which patients referred urgently with a high suspicion of cancer get their first treatment or other management.
"The objective of the exercise is to allow us the ability to report our performance in a more comparative way.
"Our performance (on a comparable basis) may still be sub-optimal compared to target and ... other DHBs but it currently appears to be an outlier."
The SDHB reports prospective cancer cases for the 62-day target while other DHBs report retrospectively.
Mr Ng said he suspected a prospective approach led to better cancer management, and if that was so he did not wish to change the system.
In a follow-up report to the advisory committee a fortnight ago, Mr Ng said codes for delays in cancer treatment varied across DHBs and a better comparable measurement might be the absolute number of patients going over the 62-day target.
"We have a higher number of patients going over 62 days before reason codes are applied than the average, validating our need to invest in staffing and other opportunities to improve flow and timeliness."
A full-time employee had been approved to aid the SDHB’s cancer co-ordinator to investigate all cases on the cancer treatment data base to determine their status, Mr Ng said.
The ODT revealed yesterday that cancer-treating linear accelerator machines were often unable to be used by SDHB clinicians because the board was well behind seeing patients for their required first specialist appointments before treatment could begin.
Southern cancer treatment waiting lists have ballooned in recent months, and reached a high of 157 people awaiting radiation oncology treatment earlier this year.
At least 27 medical oncology patients have been recorded as having suffered harm while on the waiting list, including three who are now unsuitable for treatment.