THE long and exhausting haul to the city for Bass Coast cancer patients is coming to an end with chemotherapy services to start at Wonthaggi Hospital next week. The first cancer patient will be treated at the hospital on Thursday, February 27.
While the service will start slowly, Bass Coast Health CEO Jan Child predicts that within a year it will be able to treat up to 80 per cent of cancers locally.
While most of the attention is on the $115 million expansion and upgrade of Wonthaggi Hospital, Ms Child says the expansion of services due to collaborations with major Melbourne hospitals is just as important.
“It chemo service is the biggest game changer for local patients. So many people have faced that arduous trip for weeks and weeks on end while they’re at their most vulnerable.
The service is expected to be fully functioning with nine chairs by the time the doors of the hospital’s new cancer unit open in September-October.
“Once we get all our practices right it will take a year or so to iron everything out and start dealing with more complex cancers.”
The cancer unit is being established under the guidance of oncologists and haematologists from The Alfred hospital in Melbourne. It’s a two-way process: while The Alfred supplies the specialists, Bass Coast nurses and pharmacists are going to The Alfred to be trained.
“Abbey Wilcox and George Grigoriadis are our two haematologists. They’ve been consulting for just over a year. Brilliant, beautiful people, committed to bringing care down here. They’re working with us, as have the Alfred oncologists, to build up our cancer services. They’ve been helping us set up our protocols.
“They’re talking about eventually being able to treat 80 per cent of cancers here. Even some of the immunotherapy and clinical trials, The Alfred’s able to bring them down here. We’ll probably never do kids or heads. The neurological stuff is trickier.”
The update on services came during an exhibition of plans for the $115 million Wonthaggi Hospital upgrade last week. Board members of Bass Coast Health and the Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority were on hand to explain the plans and answer residents’ questions.
Ms Child said partnering with The Alfred and other major Melbourne hospitals had given Bass Coast patients access to services that previously seemed unthinkable, including the ability to treat stroke and heart patients.
In the past, stroke patients were choppered to a city hospital for treatment. Today most can be treated at Wonthaggi Hospital – by a leading neurologist, thanks to the miracle of telemedicine.
Bass Coast Health is now part of the Victorian Stroke Telemedicine Network, which means doctors in the hospital’s emergency department can call in a leading neurologist, who could be in New Zealand or Barwon or one of the Melbourne hospitals. The local doctor sends a scan, the neurologist looks at the patient, the doctors do the examination, the neurologist makes a diagnosis and advises on thrombolysis, the doctor administers the drug under the neurologist’s watch and, all going well, an hour later the patient has recovered.
Ms Child says she went to a health forum on Phillip Island recently where two people stood up. “Both had had a stroke, one at Wonthaggi and one at Phillip Island. Both had got to our ED and it was as if the stroke hadn’t happened. They said thank you for being there and providing that service.
“One woman said to me ‘I watched my husband die and then I watched you bring him back to life through this machine’.”
In the case of heart patients, Bass Coast Health has a five-year partnership with The Alfred Hospital’s cardiology unit. The local doctors can call a cardiologist and send them a patient’s ECG results for advice. If they need a stent, there is a guaranteed bed at The Alfred straight away.
“We can’t do stents here yet but what we are doing is bringing the cardiologists from The Alfred down. Professor David Kaye, who’s an eminent cardiologist, now comes down once a week. He’s got a troupe of cardiologists coming down. Over the next few months we’ll be setting up heart clinics, pacemaker clinics, a full suite of clinics at Phillip Island and Wonthaggi.”
With an ageing population, the other great gap in Bass Coast health care has been geriatric services. From April The Alfred will provide five days a week of geriatric cover, either through telemedicine or face-to-face consultations. There will be geriatricians in Wonthaggi Hospital’s sub-acute ward and they will also do outpatient consultations at the Phillip Island health hub and Wonthaggi.
“That’s a game changer for older people who’ve got co-morbidities and they need someone to look at the whole person.”
Ms Child stresses that these are all public services, funded by Bass Coast Health.
“Having the partnerships with the Melbourne hospitals has been a key piece of work. We’ve been so dependent in the past on who’s got a holiday house and we had to get more rigorous partnerships happening.”