29 November 2023

Wagga patients finally promised free cancer care

| Chris Roe
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cancer care building

Wagga patients will no longer be out of pocket for radiotherapy. Photo: Riverina Cancer Care Centre.

Wagga patients will finally be able to access free cancer treatment after the NSW Regional Health Minister confirmed the State Government will close the gap on radiotherapy and medical oncology treatment costs from next year.

The Riverina Cancer Care Centre (RCCC) is the only service in the state that requires patients to pay out-of-pocket expenses for radiotherapy treatment.

In April this year, Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr presented a petition to parliament with 12,000 signatures calling for radiotherapy services in Wagga to be bulk billed, as they are in other regional centres.

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He followed up with the minister in question time on Tuesday asking what progress had been made on delivering “equity for patients seeking cancer treatment” in the Riverina.

“This was a basic tenant of health care, that if someone needed access to cancer treatment, then that should be done in a way that is affordable and manageable for them,” Mr Park said.

“I didn’t want a cancer diagnosis … to become a financial crisis as well as a health crisis.”

Mr Park confirmed that tenders would be called in December for providers to deliver bulk-billed services for radiotherapy, medical oncology and medical oncology outreach services for Wagga and surrounds.

The tenders will close in January 2024, with the services to be provided “as quickly as possible”.

“This is a fantastic development for our community and one we have been seeking for many months,” Dr McGirr said.

“It goes without saying that undergoing treatment for cancer is incredibly traumatic for patients and their loved ones, and for those people to have been hit with hefty out-of-pocket costs for treatment was unfair and financially burdensome – so I’m very happy that our combined lobbying efforts have finally delivered that crucial support to our region.”

Dr Joe

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

In September last year an agreement was made with private operators Cancer Care Partner Group to 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 the facility is community owned.

As he presented the petition to parliament in April, Dr McGirr said the situation was complicated by Medicare and the agreements between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and that Wagga was “essentially being punished for having built this facility 20 years ago before the government was getting into it”.

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While the Wagga centre does offer Medicare rebates, patients are left $480 out of pocket for a course of treatment.

“I thank the NSW Government for acting on the concerns raised by our community and would like to especially thank those patients, carers and loved ones who helped to make this wonderful breakthrough happen,” Dr McGirr said.

“My focus now will be to ensure that these services are introduced by mid-2024 and that patients get the best possible treatment, providing new hope at a challenging time.”

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