Patients have reported waiting months for a diagnosis, but the Queensland Health Department says wait times are not excessive.
Recent claims that Queenslanders are waiting longer than clinically recommended for biopsy results are untrue, according to Queensland Health.
A spokesperson for the department said wait times for cancer test results statewide were largely in line with recommendations, with average turnaround times for biopsy results remaining at just over nine days.
“The limited number of anatomical pathologists in regional Queensland has increased the number of biopsies referred to major public laboratories, impacting turnaround times,” they said.
“Anatomical pathology workloads have also increased by over 100% over the last 10 years, which has a major impact due to the time-consuming nature of the work.
“Queenslanders can be assured the most urgent samples are being prioritised.”
The comments contradict a statement from Breast Cancer Network Australia calling for greater transparency from the Queensland government after reports from BCNA members of excessive wait times for receiving results and initiating treatment, with some patients waiting months for confirmation of a cancer diagnosis.
The organisation has urged the government to disclose the extent of the delays, how many patients have been affected and the immediate actions it has taken to improve the situation.
Vicki Durston, BCNA’s director for Policy, Advocacy and Support Services, said the delays were largely the result of workforce shortages, which were limiting timely access to breast cancer screening and treatment nationwide.
“We have been hearing from people calling our helpline and reaching out to Breast Cancer Network Australia that Queensland is particularly problematic, not just for delays to diagnostic procedures and tests but also long delays to elective surgery waiting lists as well,” Ms Durston said.
“Across the cancer spectrum for treatment, we’re seeing and hearing those delays, which is very concerning. But we know that this is not unique to Queensland; we’re hearing this around the country.”
According to Ms Durston, BCNA and other consumer groups need to be involved in the Queensland government’s decision-making process.
“We would welcome a seat at the table when decisions are made, whether they are workforce strategies or seeking other states’ support, so that we can be really clear around what the strategies look like to address this crisis, but also so we can help support communicating [these strategies] effectively with the community,” she said.
Queensland Health also said that various initiatives were underway to increase the state’s pathology workforce.
“To improve medical resourcing, Pathology Queensland (PQ) has offered contracts to nine final-year anatomical pathology trainees to remain at PQ’s central laboratories in Brisbane,” the spokesperson said.
“Thirteen more laboratory staff are also being recruited and PQ is advertising far and wide to source additional pathologists.
“To manage workloads, Pathology Queensland has engaged a pathology laboratory in Victoria to analyse 50 specialist samples a week from Metro North Hospital and Health Services. These include biopsies referred to Metro North HHS from other hospital and health services in the state.
“PQ is also introducing digital pathology technology in the next year to deliver further workflow improvements by reducing the need for physical transport of slides between sites,” the spokesperson said.