Geraldton radiotherapy service funding stalls, leaving patients with long drive to Perth

Midwest cancer patients and the state medical association are calling for a promised radiotherapy service to be built in Geraldton as state and federal governments stall on fully funding the project.

Geraldton general practitioner Mahee Jayakody became a patient when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

“I felt a breast lump — I knew,” she said.

Dr Jayakody said it was “a very bad diagnosis” because the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes.

She underwent chemotherapy in Geraldton but in January she had to travel to Perth for six weeks of radiotherapy, leaving her family, work and community more than 440km away.

Dr Jayakody said her son was scared when she had to travel to Perth for breast cancer treatment.ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Bridget Herrmann

She said anxiety about the diagnosis and navigating a bigger city meant everyday activities like driving and shopping were chaotic.

She said her nine-year-old child struggled with staying in Geraldton for school.

†[If I was in Geraldton] he would have seen me every day which would have reassured him.”

She said the mental health impacts were difficult, but so were the extra financial burdens from traveling for treatment.

She said she wanted to see a local radiation unit.

Travel adds to cancer stress

Geraldton farmers Anne and Ben Forbes also want to see radiotherapy offered in the region after traveling to Perth for Mr Forbes’ cancer treatment twice in recent years.

A patient receiving radiation during cancer treatment
Radiotherapy is used to treat a variety of cancers.ABC News: Alison Branley

Ms Forbes said being away from home caused extra worry.

“The first stress hits you when the diagnosis come in, you go ‘oh my God,'” she said.

“There’s more stress when you’re actually down there because you feel like you’re cut off from your family, from everything you normally do.”

She said a local unit would solve some of the problems regional residents faced.

Funding left in the lurch

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a radiation oncology service for Geraldton in 2019 when the Australian government committed $9 million to the project.

It was a part of nation-wide funding for 13 radiation centers.

However there remained a $10 million shortfall to fully fund the project to which the state and federal governments had not committed.

A $9 million federal funding commitent has not been enough to bring a radiotherapy service to Geraldton.ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale

State health minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the government was putting $122 million into redeveloping the Geraldton Health Campus and while it did not include a radiotherapy service, oncology and radiation would be considered later in the redevelopment.

She called on the federal government to cover the remaining cost of the unit.

Durack federal MP Melissa Price said the initial $9 million was agreed with the state but the remaining $10 million was not an election promise.

She said the government had contributed an estimated $14.1 billion to WA public hospital services from 2020-2025.

Medicos because funding, not excuses

A man in a white shirt with a black and gold tie looks at the camera while sitting at a desk with a glass top.
Australia Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith says the impacts of travel on patients need to be considered.ABC News: Keane Bourke

Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said having radiotherapy was “extremely important” in regional areas.

“It’s very disappointing to hear that this has been promised for three years and for whatever reason the funding has been held up,” he said.

Mr Duncan-Smith said while radiotherapy could be planned around travel, it would be ideal to have a unit in the Geraldton region.

“It’s not the sort of thing where it has to be done on a certain day, it can be done … within a window of a week or two,” he said.

“A radiotherapy unit in Geraldton is going to really service the whole of the Midwest.”

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