A 52-year-old West Ballina grandmother faces an anxious wait of up to a year to discover whether she has colon cancer after she was told by Lismore Base Hospital that was the earliest date she could expect to have a colonoscopy.
This week, shadow health minister Walt Secord wrote to health minister Brad Hazzard to highlight the case of Sharon Gregory, who requires an urgent colonoscopy.
Sharon’s eldest daughter has the bowel condition ulcerative colitis and Sharon’s father died of cancer.
So when her younger sister discovered last year that she had colorectal cancer during a colonoscopy, the doctor recommended her siblings should be checked.
Sharon attended her GP promptly and, as a public patient, was referred to Lismore Base Hospital.
‘I went to the hospital on the 15th of September  and received notification on the 21st that it would be a year before I could be seen,’ she told Echonetdaily.
Although there are private practices in Ballina that could perform the colonoscopy within months if not weeks of a referral, Sharon says that ‘being able to afford them is the thing’.
‘We’re just hoping that something would come up a little bit sooner,’ she said.
But nothing has come up and the hospital has made no further contact with Sharon, prompting her to get in touch with Mr Secord and her local federal member Justine Elliot.
Health minister must explain
Mr Secord has this week written to minister Brad Hazard demanding an explanation for the wait time and has called for an immediate investigation into the delays for non-urgent elective surgery and other procedures at Lismore Base Hospital.
He said in the letter that the investigation should ‘include whether there is an appropriate level of resources and staffing for the region.’
‘Taking into consideration the seriousness of cancer, this waiting time is excessive,’ he told the minister, ‘especially as health experts agree that discovering the cancer earlier can save lives.’
Longest waits in state
Mr Secord added that recent independent Bureau of Health Information research reports that Lismore Base Hospital has some of the longest waits in the state and the second longest waits outside Sydney – for non-urgent elective surgery.
He also said in the letter that, as of September 30, 2016, there were 1,593 patients waiting for elective surgery at Lismore Base Hospital.
This latest incident follows the situation at Ballina Hospital on New Year’s Day where the emergency department went into meltdown and a patient was photographed lying outside the facility and at Byron Central Hospital where a patient waited longer than 13 hours to be transferred to a Queensland hospital with a bowel obstruction.
‘Health minister Brad Hazzard must immediately investigate these delays – and whether there has been an appropriate level of resources and staffing,’ Mr Secord said.
‘Waiting a year for a colonoscopy is absolutely unacceptable – especially, when you are worried about your state of health.’
‘Telling a grandmother who has a family history of bowel-related cancer to wait a year should not occur. It is unfair and unsafe.’
‘This is the human cost of a health and hospital system which has been neglected by the Nationals.’
‘Another day; another problem. Sadly, health and hospitals on the North Coast lurch from crisis to crisis.’
Mr Secord added it was time local National Party MPs Thomas George and Geoff Provest started drawing the state of the health and hospital system to the premier and health minister.
‘It is time the Nationals stood up for North Coast patients,’ Mr Secord said.
Echonetdaily has approached the Northern NSW Local Health District for comment.