Wait for cancer specialist ‘scary’

A Mosgiel pensioner reads a letter from the Southern District Health Board telling him the...
A Mosgiel pensioner reads a letter from the Southern District Health Board telling him the estimated wait time to see a specialist to investigate his bowel cancer symptoms is 40 weeks. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Mosgiel pensioner fears he may die before a 40-week wait to see a bowel cancer specialist is up.

The 88-year-old man, who asked to be called Albert to protect his privacy, said he visited his doctor after noticing blood in his stool about six months ago.

‘‘It’s stuff you don’t like talking about ... when you see blood. It’s worrying.’’

His doctor referred him to the Southern District Health Board general surgery service to see a specialist.

Albert received a letter from the board just before Christmas saying the referral had been given a priority of ‘‘semi-urgent’’ and the estimated wait time for his appointment was 40 weeks.

‘‘Forty weeks - I thought it was a typist’s error. A guy could be dead by then,’’ he said.

The wait time was ‘‘scary’’.

‘‘If I do have bowel cancer, it’s a long time to wait.’’

About a month ago, his doctor asked for the board to review Albert’s priority but he had not heard anything back.

He wondered how many people in the South were on a waiting list to see a specialist and if his age was a reason for not being able to see a specialist sooner.

‘‘Maybe they think I’m past my use-by date.’’

Bowel Cancer NZ medical adviser Prof Frank Frizelle said it was ‘‘very concerning’’ the SDHB had given a patient with symptoms a 40-week wait time.

‘‘Bowel Cancer NZ would expect a patient referred by their GP with blood in their stools to be seen within 12 weeks.

‘‘Advanced age should have nothing to do with it.

‘‘If anything, this patient's age makes it more urgent that he see a specialist, given the symptoms he is experiencing.

‘‘A 40-week wait is unacceptable.’’

SDHB surgery and radiology general manager Janine Cochrane said age was not a consideration when triaging patients for appointments.

‘‘Currently we receive many more referrals into our general surgery service than we are able to see with our target time frames for first specialist appointments,’’ Ms Cochrane said.

About 500 patients had been referred for appointments in the general surgery service at Dunedin Hospital, she said.

‘‘We do need to prioritise these in order of urgency.

‘‘We are looking at opportunities to offer additional appointments, such as dedicated clinics for particular conditions.

‘‘However, we are aware this means some patients are waiting much longer than we would want, and understand that this is concerning for those who are in this situation.

‘‘We encourage individuals to go back to their GP if their condition changes or there is further information they believe should be considered in relation to their referral.’’

SHAWN.MCAVINUE @thestar.co.nz

Comments

Concerning to patients - is that all it is, to the service - a concern. And so the throw of the dice continues at SDHB.

With all due respect to "Albert" and other Kiwis who are expecting the district health boards to take action in a timely manner. We are living in a country where most specialized medical care is extremely limited. The district health boards are a bureaucracy, the people running the health boards are political, generally, they arent the "sharpest tools" in the drawer but are trying to do the best that they can do. We all understand that they are working with very limited resources and have to prioritize the order in which individuals receive care. Don't rely on the DHB for your medical care. More people need to get the media involved to highlight problems like this so these clowns running the DHBs can see the face of the people they are condemning. It's easy to do nothing when there is no accountability, not so easy when things go public. Next thing, go schedule the treatment you need privately. I know most people can't afford the cost, but you pay for the treatment 30 days after it's done. I would rather have the treatment completed and recovering while worrying about how I am going pay rather than waiting for treatment. Get the treatment, go back to the media. Screw them!