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Cancer patients cut off from chemo in Victoria to get help from South Australian health

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Selina Green and Sandra Morello
a person standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: Mt Gambier's pop-up testing clinic with laboratory manager Chris Morias and hospital officials Ngaire Buchanan, Pam Schubert and Dr Elaine Pretorius. (ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello) © Provided by ABC Health Mt Gambier's pop-up testing clinic with laboratory manager Chris Morias and hospital officials Ngaire Buchanan, Pam Schubert and Dr Elaine Pretorius. (ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

South Australian health services are moving to help South East cancer patients cut off from their doctors and chemotherapy treatment in Western Victoria.

While the border shutdown is impacting cross-border travellers, those needing to access lifesaving medical treatment in Western Victoria are among the hardest hit.

Limestone Coast health officials are again facing long queues at coronavirus testing stations today as cross-border travellers scramble to adhere to mandatory requirements.

Hundreds of cars were again stretched along the front of the Mount Gambier Hospital's testing site this morning ahead of its opening time.

The rapid upsurge in testing rates follows SAPOL directives requiring all cross-border community members to produce evidence they have undertaken a COVID-19 test in the past seven days when flowing across the state partition.

Patients in limbo about where to get treatment

Mount Gambier resident Jennifer Jones — who has been treated by the same Victorian-based oncologist for the past 12 years for metastatic breast cancer — remains in limbo amid the tighter border restrictions.

The final treatment in her current three-month chemotherapy course was scheduled in Warrnambool on Wednesday morning — just hours after the new border rules came into force on midnight Tuesday.

"It's an ongoing treatment until it doesn't work anymore, and then they'll swap me to another lot of treatment, hopefully," Ms Jones said.

"Now I don't have the correct traveller status, so I can't go."

Ms Jones will now seek treatment within either Mount Gambier or Adelaide.

"It's just a bit disconcerting when you actually have to postpone treatments because you don't know how much the disease is progressing in the meantime," she said.

Mount Gambier's Hospital does not provide haematology services, and many local patients travel to a specialised cancer centre in nearby Warrnambool in Western Victoria.

Western Victoria patients relocated to Adelaide facilities

Limestone Coast Local Health Network executive director of medical services, Dr Elaine Pretorius, said patients with chemotherapy scheduled would be accommodated "if it is within our capability to administer that medication".

"If not, they will be accommodated at Flinders, and Flinders Medical Centre. I know it's really distressing to patients who have been accessing their treatment."

"I think COVID has shown us that perhaps it's time that we do think about (having) a haematology service, but that's a conversation for another day," Dr Pretorius said.

Cancer Council of SA chief executive Lincoln Size said access to cancer treatment in regional hospitals was a "workforce issue".

"There's always a push to have more localized services in the regions to avoid that travel and allow people to be close to support networks in the regions," Mr Size said.

"In terms of chemotherapy, if you are going to treat mid to high-range chemotherapy in regions, you need a pharmacy in the hospital and you need medical staff on site because obviously people can have adverse reactions," he said.

"When it comes to complex surgery, again, from a workforce point of view, I don't think we have the numbers to be out in the regions."

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