19 April 2023

Ten thousand signatures add weight to calls to cover cancer treatment in Wagga

| Chris Roe
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Health Minister Ryan Park and Dr Joe McGirr

Health Minister Ryan Park discussed the gap in cancer treatment costs with Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr. Photo: Supplied.

Wagga’s Independent MP Dr Joe McGirr remains cautiously optimistic about the new Labor Government’s commitment to regional health after spending time with Health Minister Ryan Park last week.

“He was pretty passionate and pretty keen to emphasise his commitment to rural health,” said Dr McGirr who has been critical of Labor’s decision to place the portfolios of Health and Regional Health under a single minister.

“Clearly, the Government’s wanted to prune back its cabinet and that was a factor, but I think the accountability of the metropolitan bureaucracy to deliver rural health outcomes is the key issue,” he said.

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“Ryan was at pains to emphasise that it was a priority for him and we talked about ways of increasing the accountability around the implementation of the Rural Health Inquiry recommendations,” Dr McGirr said.

“We have undertaken to have regular meetings and he was open to the suggestion of a Lower House committee around rural health that would scrutinise the implementation, and I’m going to work up a proposal on that for him.”

The promise to hold the Government to account on rural and regional health was central to Dr McGirr’s recent campaign for reelection and he also promised to follow up on out-of-pocket expenses for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy and the complaint from Wagga City Council that it did not receive a fair deal on the old ambulance station from the previous administration.

“We spoke about both those things and I think that there is an openness to look into them,” he said, adding that the gap in radiotherapy costs was a complex issue due to an intersection of private enterprise and Federal and State Governments.

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“The bottom line is that the community is essentially being punished for having built this facility 20 years ago before the government was getting into it,” he explained.

“They began covering costs by charging a gap and we are now left with a private provider in a community-owned facility, whereas other parts of the state have publicly run facilities that can afford to not charge out-of-pocket fees.”

cancer care building

Ten thousand Riverina residents have signed a petition to end out-of-pocket costs for radiotherapy. Photo: Riverina Cancer Care Centre.

A petition calling for cancer treatment centres in Wagga and Griffith to bulk bill patients was put forward by fellow Independent, Murray MP Helen Dalton, and has attracted the 10,000 signatures required to have it debated in parliament.

“It’s complicated by Medicare and the agreements between the Commonwealth and the State Government but they did strike a deal with the private providers in Griffith and promised to find a way to do the same in Wagga,” Dr McGirr said.

In September last year, the previous regional health minister, Bronnie Taylor announced that an agreement with private operators Cancer Care Partner Group would guarantee affordable access and no out-of-pocket costs for radiotherapy in Griffith’s new facility.

The same providers operate the Riverina Cancer Care Centre in Wagga but there was no agreement to close the gap that currently leaves Wagga patients $480 out of pocket for a course of treatment.

Dr Joe remains hopeful that the new administration will continue the push to find a way to cover the gap.

“So we have the petition, we’ll take it to the parliament and I’ve already raised it with the minister in my meetings with him last week and went through it in some detail,” he confirmed.

“He undertook to go away and get more background from the department and I will be following up with him.”

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