Cancer centre delays frustrate local doctors

Turning the sod for the $38.5 million mental health facility at Lismore Base Hospital on Wednesday were (l-r) ALP candidate for Lismore Peter Lanyon, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Mental health), Cherie Burton MP, Aboriginal elder Greg Harrington, NCAHS Chief Executive Chris Crawford and Director of Mental Health, Richard Buss. The new facility, which is about six months behind schedule, will replace the 25-bed facility at Richmond Clinic and offer 40 adult beds plus an eight-bed child and adolescent unit. Photo: Robin Osborne/NCAHS.

Local paediatrician Dr Chris Ingall says the Medical Staff Council of Lismore Base Hospital is very disappointed that the planned radiotherapy oncology unit has been delayed, and they are fearful they may now lose $8 million the Commonwealth promised for the project.

Dr Ingall said he learnt construction on the cancer unit would be pushed back from 2007 to 2009 after reading a letter from Federal Health Minister Tony Abbot to NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos. Dr Ingall said in the letter Mr Abbott expressed his disappointment that the NSW Government had reneged on a promise made in 2004 that work on the cancer unit would begin in 2007.

Dr Ingall said Mr Abbott also intimated in the letter that it would be irresponsible for the federal government not to look at other projects where the $8 million could be used.

Dr Ingall said while he realised there was never enough money to fund all the NSW governments capital works projects, he believed they should come clean about their timetable.

We can understand why theyre dragging their heels, but we just wish theyd be more transparent about it, he said.

North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said he has had no formal advice from the Commonwealth suggesting the $8 million is no longer available.

He said work on the $23 million radiotherapy oncology unit, part of stage two of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, could not begin until stage one was completed as it was logistically impossible.

The old mental health unit is where it (the cancer unit) will be sited and part of the old building will be used for the new cancer unit, Mr Crawford said.

He said the timetable for stage one of the hospital redevelopment, which includes a new $38.5 million mental health facility to replace Richmond Clinic, had blown out by about six months. But he could not confirm when work on the new cancer unit would begin.

However, Dr Ingall said any justification for the delay did not change the reality that local cancer patients would suffer as a result.

Because locals have to drive up the coast for radiotherapy, a lot of local women are choosing, in the case of breast cancer for instance, to have a masectomy or more invasive surgery rather than travel, Dr Ingall said. At the time you are most sick is when they want you to travel, and a lot of people cant face that ordeal. But at the same time choosing more invasive surgery can have physical and psychological impacts down the track.

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