NSW cancer clinics get patients’ approval

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Cancer patients treated in NSW outpatient clinics have reported an overwhelmingly positive experience, but improvements could be made for those who speak English as a second language.

Outpatient clinics diagnose cancer and provide treatment including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and surgery.

More than 8300 patients who attended one of 42 clinics in the state in 2021 were surveyed and their responses released on Wednesday by the NSW Bureau of Health Information.

NSW chief cancer officer Professor Tracey O’Brien told AAP the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s a testament to the dedication of the frontline healthcare staff working in cancer units in an incredibly difficult time in the pandemic,” Prof O’Brien said.

The report notes COVID-19 disrupted the delivery of cancer treatment.

The latest survey shows a fall in the number of patients accessing care, and some of them received treatment virtually amid lockdowns.

“They had to quickly adapt and utilise that technology,” Prof O’Brien says.

However, patients found virtual care to be a positive, saving them time and achieving their desired outcomes.

While not able to fully replace face-to-face consultations, virtual care will remain a useful tool in some cases, Prof O’Brien said.

There are 23 urban and 19 large rural facilities hosting outpatient care, including three private facilities.

More than 5000 of the survey respondents were treated at urban facilities.

The survey showed there was no significant difference in the quality of care being received in urban or rural areas for the most part, and almost all patients (98 per cent) rated their care as very good or good.

On some measures, rural patients reported better outcomes, feeling more involved in their treatment plans, having better communication with their carers and feeling more comfortable during their treatment, Prof O’Brien said.

However, people who speak English as a second language reported significantly less positive experiences.

They were less likely to have found their treatment well organised, and 23 per cent reported receiving conflicting information regarding their treatment, almost four times the amount of English speakers.

“There are always areas we can improve,” Prof O’Brien said.

Ensuring interpreters are always available for people who need them, not just in the 58 per cent of cases survey respondents reported, is one way to improve people’s treatment experience, she said.

Australian Medical Association NSW president Michael Bonning told an upper house inquiry on Friday outpatient clinics provide significant community benefit and the state needs to provide more, not just for cancer.

“There are patients who are too complex for primary care, not yet sick enough for the emergency department and too poor for a private specialist,” Dr Bonning said.

“They need access to public outpatients.”

Without more clinics patients would end up on “hidden waiting lists” and receive worse outcomes by waiting longer for treatment, Dr Bonning said.


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