New $32m cancer unit at Tauranga Hospital

By Carmen Hall, Julia Proverbs

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A $32million state-of-the-art radiotherapy facility is being built at Tauranga Hospital so patients will no longer have to travel out of the region for treatment.

It will be completed mid-2014, with treatments starting towards the end of 2014. It will also be the first solar-powered radiotherapy facility in New Zealand.

About 500 Bay of Plenty patients receive radiotherapy annually with most opting to go to Hamilton. Those patients receive about 8500 treatments with some patients receiving more treatments than others depending on their conditions.

The most recent figures from the Ministry of Health show 1252 people were registered with cancer in the district in 2009 compared with 1239 in 2008.

The project, which is being jointly funded by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) and Bay Radiotherapy Services, means Tauranga is joining six other cities where radiotherapy is available - as well as in Hamilton, radiotherapy is available in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

BOPDHB chairwoman Sally Webb said it was good news for cancer patients as they would be able to get their treatment closer to home, while still benefiting from being part of the wider Midland Cancer Network.

"It feels good to be bringing a new health service to our population to complement all the other new services, including cardiac angioplasty introduced recently," Ms Webb told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

Developed by the BOPDHB in partnership with Bay Radiotherapy Services, the facility will offer the most advanced radiotherapy equipment in New Zealand and harness solar power as part of its environmentally advanced design - a first in the country.

The three-storey building will be next to the cancer centre and will open towards the end of next year.

Bay Radiotherapy Services managing director and Bay clinician Mark Fraundorfer said years of planning had gone into the facility.

No effort had been spared in the planning, he added.

"The sun's rays will, in effect, power the linear accelerators. Amazing progress for science."

Radiotherapy was an essential service for Bay people and was long overdue, Mr Fraundorfer said.

The facility will house three bunkers, accommodating two linear accelerators, enabling a continuous service.

A state-of-the-art CT scanner would be used for planning patients' treatments and the latest in patient planning computer software had been sourced.

Patient parking would be fully enclosed within the building for easy access and privacy.

"We all agreed this building would be an example of sound and innovative environmental and clinical planning.

"Solar panels on the roof will provide energy for the linear accelerators, with the cooling and heating systems also solar driven.

"The total complex will be energy efficient," Mr Fraundorfer said.

"We could have just built a building but we wanted something that not only delivered a complete and comprehensive radiotherapy service, but was an environmental statement and future-proofed service."

Architects worked with experts in the fields of radiotherapy and living buildings to deliver an exacting brief, he said.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the development was fantastic for the city.

"Obviously it will be able to provide a great service for people here in the Bay of Plenty with cancer issues and a whole range of health problems.

"They won't have to go much further afield ... you know we are very blessed to have such good healthcare provisions."

The project was also bound to create jobs in the building industry and within the unit itself, he said.

Minister of Health Tony Ryall said it added to the range of services available at Tauranga Hospital, which "makes our city even more of a liveable place.

"It's a great place to live and a great place to work and I'm sure they will have no trouble getting the very smart people they need to work at the centre. "But first and foremost, it is positive for patients."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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