Millions for new cancer centre

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced $9.1 million for cancer services at Lismore Base Hospital on Tuesday as part of his whirlwind tour to promote the federal government’s health reform package before next week’s COAG meeting.

The package includes a PET/CT scanner that gives three dimensional images to enhance early detection and accurate diagnosis for cancer sufferers. It also included a second linear accelerator for radiotherapy treatment plus a 20-bed accommodation centre called ‘Our House’ at the hospital.

Mr Rudd said he recognised that cancer rates were on the rise and had been speaking to patients in the chemotherapy ward about the practical problems they had when trying to get treatment.

“One bloke said to me that it’s hard enough dealing with the disease without having to travel hundreds of kilometres to get treatment,” Mr Rudd said.

The Prime Minister said there were significant issues for people accessing cancer treatments in regional areas and that with some cancers, patients from rural areas are up to three times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis than their counterparts in urban areas. He said the government was spending $560 million rolling out integrated cancer care centres across the country, which will allow patients and their families to receive care closer to home and their community.

Mr Rudd said one linear accelerator machine couldfacilitate 420 treatments in a year and the addition of a second machine to double that number was an important investment in the basic hospital needs for the people of the Northern Rivers. Our Health campaigner Marshall Fittler, who has spent the last 18 months campaigning to get a PET/CT scanner for Lismore, said he was “over the moon” when he heard the Prime Minister’s announcement.

“It will be a tremendous asset for people who have to travel to Brisbane or Sydney to have PET scans,” he said. “A week is a long time to wait in the battle against cancer and if they can get in a week earlier here, there will be so much more benefit to them.”

Mr Fittler said that a PET/CT machine can also be used for cardiovascular conditions and dementia and will attract specialists to the area, which in turn will boost the local economy.

“People from other regional areas will settle here due to the fact that we have quality medical facilities available, “ Mr Fittler said. “Real estate values will rise and businesses will become more profitable.”

During his visit, Mr Rudd also called for all premiers to rise to the occasion and grasp the opportunity to forge a health system in the national interest, prior to the meeting of the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in Canberra next week. He asked for all politicians and ministers to put aside local differences and reach an agreement to support better services for working families and aged people under his proposed new health system.

“All Australians are crying out for reform,” Mr Rudd said.

When asked about the funding models for his proposed health system, Mr Rudd said that each hospital network would be funded directly for the services they provided and that there would not be a block allocation of funding.

“This will give local hospitals more autonomy to make decisions locally,” he said.

Mr Rudd also said he had spoken to young doctors at Lismore Base Hospital and they all wanted to see more investment in GP training places outside metropolitan areas.

“In future, we will be adding an additional 3000 places for GPs which will deal with the local health workforce needs,” Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd also said that the federal government would be responsible for providing 60% of the funding for capital works upgrades to the hospital system.

“This means new buildings and equipment. In the past, the government provided zero dollars for this,” Mr Rudd said. “This is the first time the federal government has become the dominant funder for hospitals.”

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