Strike threatens to disrupt cancer patients' treatment

By Errol Kiong

Hundreds of cancer patients are likely to have their treatment disrupted as the country's radiation therapists go on strike.

The 250 therapists, members of the Association of Professional and Executive Employees (Apex), served notice yesterday afternoon for a 2 1/2 day strike beginning on June 9.

Hospitals under all six district health boards that employ radiation therapists, which include those in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, will be affected.

The therapists walked off the job for 14 hours last month after their claim for a 5 per cent cost-of-living rise was rejected. About 500 cancer patients were affected.

Apex secretary Deborah Powell said the health boards had not changed their position.

"They're still making the zero offer, and obviously it's not acceptable for the radiation therapists."

Dr Powell said the increase was necessary to retain skilled staff, and would keep pace with cost-of-living rises since their last settlement in 2002.

"We want to make sure that the settlement we achieved some years ago now retains its value otherwise we'll keep on losing RTs overseas.

"We know what happens when we lose radiation therapists. Waiting lists blow out and patients don't get treated.

"Australia still pays 20 per cent higher than we do here, and they have tax cuts to look forward to now, so it's not as though we can allow our salaries in New Zealand to slip. A cost-of-living increase in the circumstances is more than reasonable but the district health boards are just saying 'no, no money at all'."

But a spokeswoman for the boards, Lareen Cooper, said radiation therapists were already getting a pay increase as part of their 2002 package.

In addition, work conditions for therapists had improved, with no current shortage of therapists.

"We don't have the issues that we did have in early 2000."

She said radiation oncologists would today look at rescheduling patients due to receive treatment during the strike.

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