Longest southern cancer waiting lists ‘shameful’, ‘criminal’

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
More people than ever in the South are waiting for cancer treatment, as waiting lists reach lengths never before experienced.

Last week, the waiting list for radiation oncology treatment was 157 people, a situation oncologist and Southern District Health Board member Lyndell Kelly told a board committee meeting was criminal.

"That is the highest it has ever been ... it is shameful that we are in this situation and we have been crying out for help for a long time and I am glad that it is being taken seriously now."

The Otago-Southland division of the Cancer Society was equally horrified, and acting chief executive Bob King said while he knew the waiting list was long, the actual figure was far worse than he had expected.

DHBs monitor two different cancer treatment targets, a person with a confirmed diagnosis receiving their first treatment within 31 days, and a person referred with a high suspicion of cancer having their first treatment or other management within 62 days.

SDHB specialist services executive director Patrick Ng said while the SDHB’s cancer treatment rates had deteriorated and it was behind target in both categories, he believed the board’s performance in the 31-day measurement could be turned around.

"The 62-day performance is more concerning."

The waiting list was too high and should be about 70.

Access to medical imaging such as CT and MRI scans was an issue, as was staffing, Mr Ng said.

Attempts to recruit a new radiation oncologist had been unsuccessful, and the board now hoped to attract Australian staff across the Tasman to take up locum positions.

"If we are unsuccessful in that then the fallback is that we will have to outsource."

That would come at a cost to the SDHB, he said.

Dr Kelly said the SDHB had some of the worst cancer treatment waiting list figures in the country, and people were waiting."Some people were having to wait six to eight weeks for a CT scan in Dunedin and then another two weeks for a PET (positron emission tomography) CT scan in Christchurch," Dr Kelly said.

"We rebelled and said we would not do that, because it’s criminal to expect people to wait two months to find out how extensive their cancer is."

Last week, the Otago Daily Times reported Mr King’s concern that cancer treatment waiting lists were on the rise.

Yesterday, he said Dr Kelly’s revelation was far worse than the Cancer Society had anticipated.

"It is sad to see the actual numbers come out way ahead of what we thought they were and it is very concerning for the people waiting in line to access treatment. It puts them and their families in an invidious position."

An early diagnosis and early treatment were critical for any chance to successfully treat cancer. Delays were harming people, he said.

"It is incredibly hard on people and something needs to be done to address that waiting list ... it appears that whatever they are doing is failing to address the fundamental problem of waiting lists."




I have been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the tongue and was referred for palliative chemo some weeks ago. I have not had any contact from the booking team to advise on the likely dates for even an initial consultation, some three weeks in. Persistant attempts to approach them directly have been ignored and back channel approaches indicate a seven week plus queue ahead of me.

In the mean time I have had to fight to get a referral to the hospice as no one seemed to think it was needed. I can barely eat or swallow and every day the cancer is worse. I doubt that I will ever see the oncology team and will thereby make it a little shorter wait time for someone else who has a potentially less aggressive cancer.

And of course diagnosis was itself massively delayed due to a reluctance of the Dr's to order scans, followed by a total misdiagnosis that wasted yet more weeks.


Time the SDHB purposefully overspent to provide the necessary services the people of the south need and for the MoH to properly fund services through a transparent allocation of funds. Robertson says we have 1bn going spare at the moment - put it into health services instead of wasting it on vanity projects.

A big part of it a scarcity of specialists and specialised equipment like PET CT scanners. This should be the immediate focus. Long term prevention measures are the next important thing.

My good friend lived with me for 2 years. He told me he had a cancer history in his family so he was getting a monthly psa test. In the middle of lockdown he was told he had stage 9 prostate cancer, basically a dead man walking. The doctor had not been testing for psa though taking bloods every month. Advised by hospital have chemo bad time for a longer time no chemo bad time shorter time. All in all a litany of medical failures resulting in his "to young to die of this" death Christmas last year. No consequences for the lack of proper duty. Nothing. He died case closed moving on badly. I have no faith in the medical profession as it is presented in this third world country.