Mountainous cancer treatment waiting lists have defeated the Southern District Health Board, which yesterday called for outside help to treat up to 200 people.
Patient advocates, while welcoming the prospect of much-needed diagnosis and treatment finally being provided for people possibly facing a terminal illness, were scathing of the SDHB for having let its waiting lists get to this point.
"I am really pleased for the people who are on the waiting list, but I'm also really sad because that will cost so much money that could have been used for lots of patients," Southland cancer campaigner Melissa Vining said.
"If this had been managed well in the first place and management had got more staff, more resources, and planned ahead, we wouldn't be wasting money contracting out and would be providing those services in our own district."
While addressing the immediate waiting list was critical, the cost of that would have gone so much further if it had been spent on hiring radiation oncologists or buying equipment, Vining said.
Tender documents seen by the Otago Daily Times said the SDHB had issued an RFP (request for proposal) for up to 200 breast cancer and prostate cancer patients to be treated by other providers, for up to three years.
Those illnesses had been chosen as they had the highest volume of patients, although other cancer patients unable to be treated in-house would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Tendering health services were expected to be able to treat at least 50 patients each year, meaning southern patients could find themselves travelling far and wide around New Zealand to obtain cancer treatment.
"We are very concerned about the current wait times some of our patients are experiencing and need to do everything we can to ensure our patients receive their care in a timely manner," SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.
He said the SDHB would not place a limit on the number of patients, or the duration for which it would be using services provided by external organisations.
The tender closes on June 4, and it is hoped contracts will begin on July 1.
The SDHB had also offered some patients the option of receiving care at St George's Hospital in Christchurch. Those who had waited the longest would be first to be seen.
The ODT reported a fortnight ago that cancer treatment waiting times were nearing crisis point, and last Monday, SDHB board member and radiation oncologist Lyndell Kelly said the radiation oncology treatment waiting list stood at a record 157 patients.
Waiting lists are also long for CT and MRI scans, and several patients have suffered harm while they waited.
Steve Carr, a throat cancer patient whose misdiagnosis and delayed treatment contributed to his cancer becoming terminal, spoke out about delays and waiting lists a week ago.
Yesterday, he said while the planned extra treatments would probably be of no help to him, he was pleased other people would be helped.
"I was hoping that something would happen. It is no good for anyone to be stuck."
Cancer Society Otago Southland division acting chief executive Bob King said while news so many people would get treatment was good, it was a pity the waiting list situation had been so dire that such drastic action was needed.
"They have at least acknowledged that they had a major issue they needed to contend with, and this is a way to deal with it in the short to medium term.
"They will need a longer-term plan though, and that may come as the Government's health reforms are rolled out ... It is a light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel still feels very long."
It will probably cost the SDHB several million dollars to outsource so many cancer patients, affecting a budget Fleming told a board meeting last week was already under considerable strain.