Canberra Liberals are calling on the ACT government to clarify how wait times for endoscopy examinations will be reduced, following revelations at least two people have developed cancer while waiting more than a year to be seen.
The Canberra Times last Friday revealed that the public waiting list for endoscopy examinations in the ACT had blown out to 7200 people.
Opposition health spokeswoman Giulia Jones said she would put forward a motion in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, calling on the government to demonstrate to the public "precisely how the wait times for endoscopy will be reduced to a reasonable timeframe".
Public patients had a median wait time of 519 days to get an endoscopy examination in the ACT, according to the most recent data. One person had been on the waiting list for eight years - a matter which was under investigation by ACT Health.
"We all know shocking stories from health and we know that the statistics are bad, but I think that reporting just shone the light on one area that people really do understand [can be urgent] and a really key preventative health measure," Mrs Jones said.
"These are not highly complex procedures, they're the types of procedures we should be able to pump through a lot of in a day.
"So it really is shocking that the list has got to be so long and of course, that people have developed cancer whilst waiting over a year to be seen."
Upper endoscopies can be used to diagnose stomach and oesophageal cancer, whereas lower endoscopies - otherwise known as colonoscopies - can be used to diagnose bowel cancer.
Canberra resident Tony Cook, 77, was among those public patients who'd been waiting years to get an endoscopy examination.
He underwent a colonoscopy at Canberra Hospital in 2016 and had to have polyps removed.
His general practitioner recommend he come back in 12 months to have another colonoscopy as a preventative measure, but he didn't understand he had to have a referral to get one done.
"We went to our GP and he sent off a referral in 2018 by the time all that happened, but the hospital didn't acknowledge that [referral] until 2019," Mr Cook said.
"So the last contact was 2019 and I've heard nothing from them since then. My understanding is that [I'm still on the waiting list]."
The ACT government has said Canberrans can be assured that if they need urgent treatment, they will get it, but Mr Cook said he had "no faith in the local government whatsoever".
"Depending how urgent it was according to my GP, I would probably arrange finance and have it done privately," he said.
Mrs Jones said Canberrans trusted the ACT's health system to look after them, but the wait list for endoscopy examinations was a "plain example that it's not working".
She said while she didn't have the answer on how to fix the wait list, the government had a duty to tell people what it was going to change.
Her motion gave the government until June 24 to report back to the assembly on its plan to reduce wait times.
Last week, an ACT government spokeswoman said it had several initiatives to get wait times down for endoscopies; among them was proactively trying to recruit more specialists to do the examinations.
She said the government had committed $16 million over three years to to upgrade existing endoscopy facilities at Canberra Hospital, which would "allow for an extra 5000 endoscopy procedures each year".
The spokeswoman said Canberra's health system received endoscopy referrals from NSW and the ACT, and demand had increased with the expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
"The program began in 2006 but the Australian Government announced in 2014 that it would be expanded to offer twice-yearly screening for all Australians aged [between] 50 [and] 74," she said.
"The expansion was completed in 2020."
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