Cancer treatment claims refuted

CLAIMS Latrobe Valley’s cancer patients could no longer receive radiation treatment at Latrobe Regional Hospital have been staunchly denied by the service provider.

Last week the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria warned LRH had lost its only qualified medical physicist and that “no medical physicist means no radiation treatment”.

The latter claim was declared “categorically untrue” by The Alfred’s William Buckland Radiotherapy Centre acting clinical director Professor Sid Davis. 

Professor Davis, whose centre staffs LRH’s radiation oncology service, told The Express he was concerned “cancer patients will read that information and think they won’t go to LRH anymore and might go straight to (Melbourne’s Peter Macallum Cancer Centre).”

Professor Davis confirmed LRH did not currently have a permanent physicist on-site and agreed with claims by MSA Victoria secretary Dr Rosemary Kelly that the huge pay gap between Victoria and New South Wales for these specialists posed significant problems in attracting and retaining physicists in Victoria.

However, he said, another physicist had been appointed to take up a position at LRH within the next few months and, in the meantime, visiting physicists and specialists had stepped up their support to the local service to plug any gap.

“We do not intend to shut it down and it will not be shut down,” Professor Davis said of the LRH service which treats about 45 new local patients each month.

Professor Davis queried the “scare tactics” he said were being used by Dr Kelly to raise awareness of the pay parity issue which has long plagued Victorian physicists.

“As someone who provides this service I am very, very concerned about the problems physicists are having… it is a problem, not just in regional Victoria, but affects all radiation oncology providers, we also have a problem in the city,” he said.

“But this is not the way to bring attention to it.”

Professor Davis said he was concerned inaccurate information would harm rather than bolster the Health Services Union’s campaign to see the State Government approve pay increases to physicists. 

Dr Kelly, who is also secretary of the HSU Victoria number four branch, said the State Health Minister David Davis had “been aware of the problem since prior to the last election” but was “refusing to act”.

“The premier is aware of the problem…the government’s policy on pay increases

is 2.5 per cent, which won’t even touch the sides where the differences between rates of pay in other states and Victoria is more than 30 per cent,” she said.

Dr Kelly said LRH’s Gippsland Cancer Centre had two linear accelerators to deliver radiation therapy, with a third due to be installed” but “these machines will not be able to be used to provide radiation treatment to cancer patients without medical physicists to ensure a safe dose of radiation which precisely targets the cancerous cells”.

“The situation is a dire one for cancer sufferers in Gippsland,” she said.

Professor Davis also refuted this, saying the local facility currently only had room for two linear accelerators and a third would not be installed until plans for a”major development” on site progressed.

He also said there was “absolutely no requirement whatsoever, legislative or otherwise, for us to shut down this service”, adding a number of Victorian services had run without a permanent on-site physicist and “while it is not ideal, it can happen”.

Professor Davis did not anticipate any drop in the number of cancer patients being treated at LRH.

“The service will continue in two weeks’ time, the same as it was a fortnight ago and that is my assurance,” he said.

A point of agreement between Professor Davis and Dr Kelly was the need for the State Government to address the pay gap as a matter of urgency.

At the time of publication the State Government had not responded to calls from The Express.