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Breast Cancer Patients Sent to Australia for Treatment

Staff shortages and recent industrial action has caused Auckland City Hospital to send 30 breast cancer patients to Australia for treatment.//

This is the first time cancer patients have been sent abroad for radiation therapy since hundreds were treated in Australia between 2001 and 2004.

The women will travel to Australia within the next few weeks. Last night the Auckland District Health Board said that this decision was taken because of a 10 per cent increase in demand for treatment as well as a shortage of radiation therapists due to resignations and maternity leave.

Rolling industrial action had only compounded the shortages further.

According to medical director Margaret Wilsher other centers in New Zealand were unable to provide treatment for the patients.

She said, "We believe that there is a risk that continual delays will lower the success rate of their surgery and that is why we are offering them the opportunity to have treatment in Australia, but it is for the patient to decide if they wish to accept this opportunity."

While national guidelines recommended a maximum waiting period of six to eight weeks for post surgery treatment some of the patients could wait between 10 and 12 weeks.

The board has allotted around $500 for each patient, and a support person if desired, to go to Australia for the treatment.

According to National Party spokesman Tony Ryall the hospital's cancer services had been badly hit by recent industrial action and growing staff shortages.

He said, "Labour promised five years ago that they would stop this from happening again. This crisis didn't occur overnight - it has been brewing for months and the Government has done nothing."

While National supported cancer patients getting urgent treatment, he said that sending them to Australia was far from ideal. Mr Ryall said. "It's a band-aid solution.

"It's only a matter of time before this happens again ... The Government needs to deal with the industrial action and the workforce crisis facing so many of our country's hospitals."

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