Why did local health refuse cancer services: Hood

MOTION WITHOUT NOTICE: Mount Gambier Councillor Ben Hood has moved a motion at council's monthly meeting this week regarding the lack of radiation therapy services in Mount Gambier. Photo: File

Elisabeth Champion

A MOUNT Gambier City Councillor has raised concerns over reports that the Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) did not support the establishment of a radiation therapy treatment centre.

At council’s monthly meeting on Tuesday night, councillor Ben Hood moved a motion without notice that council express its concern regarding the lack of radiation treatment services in Mount Gambier, write to LCLHN chief executive officer Grant King requesting clarification as to why the LCLHN refused to support a proposal by the former Federal Government to establish a radiation treatment centre in Mount Gambier to service patients in the Limestone Coast, and why there are no plans to review the current service model that requires residents to travel more than two hours to Warrnambool for radiation treatment.

He asked that a copy of the letter be sent to Independent Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell, Minister for Regional Development Clare Scriven, Minister for Health Chris Picton and Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin.

In 2019, the city was chosen by the Federal Government to be one of 13 regional sites to be part of a $63 million commitment to establish a radiation therapy service in the region, however it did not get approval from the then-Liberal State Government and as such, could not proceed.

“South East patients, not just in Mount Gambier, but Naracoorte, Millicent and Penola who require radio-therapy treatment must travel to Adelaide, which is five hours, or Warrnambool, which is a four hour return trip just from Mount Gambier,” Mr Hood said.

“I believe Australia’s biggest regional city, which is a hub to well over 70,000 people, should have these services readily available for our residents.

“As a council, it is our responsibility to advocate for our residents, but as a major hub for this region, I believe we should advocate for the wider community on these issues as well.”

In a statement to The Border Watch, Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin said the LCLHN did not support the proposal to establish radiation therapy services in Mount Gambier when the grant application was first submitted.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that the State Government and Limestone Coast Local Health Network thought it is appropriate to ask South East residents to travel four hours or more a day for a daily 15-minute appointment in Warrnambool to receive basic radiation treatment,” he said.

“Multiple studies have shown that cancer survival rates are lower in regional areas and that distance from, and utilisation of radiation therapy, is a significant factor in these statistics.

“When I heard there was Federal Government funding on the table that would see radiation treatment services delivered to regions across the country, I fought for Mount Gambier to be one of these sites.

“It’s extremely disheartening to then learn that while my advocacy for the Limestone Coast was successful at the Federal level, our Local Health Network didn’t support it, and as a result Limestone Coast residents remain without local service.

“I will continue to advocate for this funding to deliver a local service for the Limestone Coast but we need co-operation at a State level to make this happen.”

A spokesperson from the LCLHN said radiation services in Warrnambool were established with the capacity to cater for Mount Gambier residents and the broader South East.

“Currently, there is not sufficient demand in the region to support the introduction of an additional service in Mount Gambier,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to work with the Commonwealth Government to discuss alternate solutions for how we can best support people with cancer in our community.

“At this stage, there are no plans to review this service model.”