Upgrade ensures continued service

Dunedin Hospital staff (from left) medical physicist Jonathan Griffin, medical physics technician...
Dunedin Hospital staff (from left) medical physicist Jonathan Griffin, medical physics technician Jon Bones, radiation therapist stereotactic specialists Amanda Clulee and Sandra de Vries, principal physicist Dr Friedlieb Lorenz and chief physicist...

Dunedin Hospital is the country's sole public provider of a specialist radiation therapy and an upgrade means the service will be secured here.

''This will underpin this service for the next decade,'' radiation oncology clinical leader Dr Shaun Costello said.

''This is a service where we have patients coming to us from all over the country.''

Dr Costello is delighted the cash-strapped Southern District Health Board agreed to buy ''extremely expensive'' software and hardware for stereotactic radiosurgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery is radiation aimed precisely at a cancerous growth or other abnormality. It is used to treat brain tumours, blood vessel abnormalities of the brain, melanoma of the eye, and tumours in the lungs and liver. It can also be a tumour-targeted ''boost'' at the end of conventional radiation therapy.

The upgrade means the therapy can be shifted on to the hospital's newest linear accelerator, the Varian TrueBeam, installed in 2013.

The upgrade would improve the accuracy, efficiency and scope of the therapy. Dunedin is contracted to treat 80 patients a year from around the country, and the service consistently met targets.

''This upgrade is an exciting step forward in terms of continuing to improve the range of radiation treatment available and we expect improved outcomes and less side effects as a consequence of this investment.''

Dr Costello is unable to disclose how much the upgrade cost. It will be introduced gradually over about 12 months. Equipment had been ordered and would arrive shortly.

''The board have made a good decision to buy it now, so that we can gradually commission this piece of equipment in time to have a staged decommissioning of the existing equipment.''

The American provider planned to move out of providing support for the type of software, and the health board needed to shift a new provider, or stop providing the service.

''We've got to start basically from square one again to get this software commissioned.''

Getting the new system commissioned properly was essential for patient safety.

''With this type of radiation you can do very serious damage if you get it wrong.''

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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