Cancer care put at risk, doctor warns

ALEX EASTON ONE over-worked oncologist is all that prevents the collapse of cancer care services on the Northern Rivers, a senior local surgeon has warned.

Dr David Townend, speaking at a Ballina public meeting on Lismore's planned radiotherapy unit on Thursday, described the Northern Rivers' cancer services as a crisis in waiting, saying there was no one able to fill for the region's only oncologist, Dr Adam Boyce, if he fell ill. Dr Townend said Dr Boyce was doing the work of three oncologists as well as visiting Grafton one day per week.

"Most people don't know how tenuous cancer services are in this area," Dr Townend said. "We have one of the biggest and busiest rural oncology units in Australia, in terms of prescriptions, yet we only have one oncologist. "He (Dr Boyce) goes down to Grafton on Tuesdays and drives back late at night. He has a young family and Adam is wearing out. "If he goes or gets sick ... if he has a car accident driving back from Grafton ... cancer services will crumble."

Despite the pressure put on Dr Boyce, and despite the absence of a radiotherapy unit, the region still had one of the country's most successful cancer services, Dr Townend said.

"In colo-rectal cancer, for every 100 people operated on (in this area), an extra five or six people lived," he said. "We're doing just as well in breast cancer."

Dr Townend said the North Coast Area Health Service had been trying to recruit a second oncologist, but those efforts had so far proved fruitless, something he blamed on the continued absence of radiotherapy in the region. In the meantime, Dr Townend said the vulnerability of the region's cancer services could easily be addressed by appointing a non-specialist doctor to help Dr Boyce. While not able to perform the specialist oncology work Dr Boyce did, a non-specialist doctor could help with other aspects of patient care and with writing prescriptions.

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