Tuesday, 27 November 2018
O'Connor Electorate: Cancer Care Services
I use this grievance debate as an opportunity to raise the unresolved issue of a fully funded linear accelerator machine, which will be granted to Albany through the federal Radiation Oncology Health Program Grants scheme. The machine is proposed to be operational by July 2019, but to date it has nowhere yet to call home. Back in 2017 GenesisCare secured funding to help provide a radiation therapy service to cancer patients living in the Great Southern part of my electorate of O'Connor. Their application met the federal government requirements to prove that this was an area of need. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's cancer incidence projections indicated that the Great Southern planning region was in need of a radiotherapy facility. Support was secured from the WA Clinical Oncology Group, which advises the WA Cancer Council.
In the WACOG letter dated April 2017 they quoted figures from the WA Department of Health's 2017 cancer registry. The cancer incidence for the Great Southern is 'expected to be 440 cases, projecting forward to an estimated 591 cases in 2027'. They state:
This 2017 incidence rate of 658 cases per 100,000 persons is considerably higher than the overall WA average of 527 cases per 100,000 persons.
They also commented that 'approximately 50 per cent of all new cancer cases are deemed eligible for some course of radiation oncology treatment' and that regional and rural residents experience 'higher proportional rates of incidents, morbidity and mortality due to being diagnosed with cancer'.
In their June 2017 letter to the grant recipient, GenesisCare, our government reiterated that there was a demonstrated need for a radiation therapy unit in the Great Southern region of O'Connor. This federal funding was to be spent on a linear accelerator, a CT simulator and a CT interfacing planning and computer system for up to three workstations. Since then GenesisCare have been working on how they can make this happen in Albany. In June this year GenesisCare's general manager, Michael Davis, and I met. He suggested that this machine could be operational within 12 months if it were located at the Albany Health Campus. His least preferred option was for it to be installed in a purpose-built private facility. He said that it would take twice as long to become operational and cost approximately twice as much to build. In addition, this private service would be less accessible for public patients. Michael Davis explained that location at the Albany Health Campus would create synergies with existing diagnostic, surgical, chemotherapy and hospice facilities that support those living with cancer in the Great Southern.
GenesisCare already services the Great Southern with a visiting oncologist who has consulted in Albany for over 15 years. I had the pleasure of meeting the oncologist, Professor David Joseph, last week, and he was excited about the prospect of offering his patients radiation therapy close to home, with the support of their families, friends and local doctors nearby. I've met with many of the local GP fraternity in Albany. Most of them are similarly enthusiastic about the Genesis project to bring radiation oncology services to Albany. Currently, their cancer patients have to travel 330 kilometres to Bunbury or 400 kilometres to Perth to be treated at other GenesisCare facilities. GenesisCare has indicated that this is at considerable expense to the state government, and any repurposing of these costs towards treatment of patients at the Albany Health Campus would improve the viability of their proposed service.
On 9 August I wrote to WA health minister, Roger Cook, requesting he meet with GenesisCare at his earliest opportunity to consider the option of co-locating at the Albany Health Campus. What followed was an ugly slanging match played out in local media, suggesting that I had no idea what I was talking about. When I quoted Genesis as estimating $3 million to attach a bunker onto the existing Albany Health Campus, versus $5 million to $7 million to build a private facility from scratch, the minister claimed that the true cost would be around $14 million. Minister Cook and local MLA Peter Watson suggested that my interest was merely a pre-election exercise and that the federal government grant of $6.6 million for a machine was akin to providing a homeless person with furniture or buying a saddle without a horse. But I note that this grant was allocated some 15 months ago, and, to my knowledge, the election has not yet been called. Instead, I refer the minister to the efforts of those who have been passionate about this issue: people like Mary Williams, who over two years ago began a public fundraising campaign towards the Albany Radiation Machine Project; groups like the Denmark Community Foundation and Soroptimist International of Albany, who have come on board with their support; and people like the farmers who wrapped their silage in eye-catching pink plastic and donated the sale proceeds to support the radiation machine project campaign. This is the real campaign—raising awareness and the necessary funds towards a machine, one hard-earned dollar at a time.
Then there are those whose lives have been touched by cancer; those who hold great hope for therapies like radiation treatment to prolong and even save their lives. Who could not fail to be moved by their plight? When federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt visited Albany in early October, it wasn't a campaign for Rick Wilson. It was to sit down with the proponents behind closed doors and discuss how best we could get this machine installed and operational as soon as possible. Everyone agreed that all levels of government need to collaborate with GenesisCare to make this a reality, and, for this to happen, we need to properly quantify the community support. To this end, we've started an electronic petition on petition.org, and to date we've collected over 1,300 signatures. Mary and her team collected hard-copy signatures at the Albany show the other weekend, adding another 300 to that tally, and we're still counting. The media has finally recognised the grassroots support, and I thank The Western Weekender in particular for their balanced reportage. Minister Hunt also committed to raising the matter in person with Minister Cook at a recent COAG health ministers' meeting. On 25 October, I received a letter from Minister Hunt confirming that this had been done, and on 1 November I finally received a response from Minister Cook.
Minister Cook stated that Albany already had comprehensive cancer care facilities and that WA Country Health Service had completed a comprehensive cancer strategy for 2017 to 2022 which provides guidance and direction for the development of a cancer service across country Western Australia. He stated:
A project such as this would require significant service and facility planning. An assessment of the potential patient activity to ensure service viability, the recurrent costs and any future unknown cost for public patients in addition to the significant capital works required would all need to be assessed.
However, he added, 'In the first instance, I've requested the WA Country Health Service to undertake a feasibility study.' I thank Minister Cook for committing to that undertaking, and I thank him for finally agreeing to meet with GenesisCare to discuss face-to-face their proposal.
Last Friday I toured GenesisCare's impressive metropolitan facility in Wembley in Perth. They reiterated to me that they are confident they can install this machine for a fraction of what the state government has estimated. In fact, they are so confident in their figures that they offered to pay for the feasibility study to save the state the time and the cost of commissioning their own. While I welcome the minister's office conducting a feasibility study, I believe this only happened as a result of the grassroots community campaign led by Mary Williams and her team. I'll continue to support and encourage this campaign, and will continue to gather signatures for the petition. I will personally engage with as many community groups as possible over the next couple of months, building on the groundswell of support that we already have. But I call on Minister Cook to work with the federal government, with health professionals of the Great Southern and with the wider Great Southern community to bring about this radiation therapy facility in Albany at the earliest possible opportunity. I ask him to do this not for Rick Wilson but for the best possible health and welfare outcomes for those living with cancer in the Great Southern.