ACT News

Cancer surgery waiting times in Canberra concern Opposition

Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson has expressed concern that median waiting times for malignant bowel and breast cancer are longer at Canberra's hospitals than at similar peer hospitals. 

Data on the My Hospitals website indicates the median waiting time for bowel cancer surgery is 17 days at Canberra Hospital (also 17 days in 2012-13) and 14 days at Calvary Hospital, and the peer-group average is 15 days. 

For breast cancer, it is 25 days at Canberra Hospital and 15 days at Calvary but 12 days for the peer-group average.

A peer group can consist of hospitals of a similar size or geographical location.

"In terms of timeliness for people waiting for surgery, they wait longer for bowel cancer and longer for breast cancer in the ACT than across the rest of Australia, and I think that is disappointing," Mr Hanson said. 

More than 90 per cent of patients with malignant bowel, breast and lung cancer in the ACT received surgery within the recommended 30 days, a National Health Performance Authority report released on Thursday found. 

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the territory's hospitals had performed well in terms of ACT people who needed cancer surgery getting their operations within clinically recommended time frames. 

She said she and other health ministers did not support hospitals also being ranked according to median waiting time, which were often well within recommended time frames based on clinical urgency. 

"It's almost like we're chasing a new performance measure which is set completely without doctors' decision-making, and this is why I think a lot of jurisdictions resisted these measures reported against," she said. 

"It's almost establishing a new benchmark - if you're not at the median then you're failing. But you're actually not because the clinically recommended time is 30 days and you're still delivering that. 

"It's starting to shift the goalposts about what is a pass and what is a fail."

Ms Gallagher said that although the median waiting time for breast cancer at Canberra Hospital was 25 days, that had also included operations required within 90 days. 

"It's actually a really good result because it shows category-two patients are getting their operations done really quickly and well within the 90 days their doctors asked for," she said. "But when you measure it against a hospital that's usually doing a lot more operations, it looks like you're not doing as well." 

But Mr Hanson did not agree.

"Katy Gallagher has form that when the reports or the key performance results required are bad or the Canberra hospital performs poorly, she simply complains about the reporting methodology," he said.