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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Lucy Bladen

Stephen-Smith urged by NSW MPs to establish permanent cancer surgery unit

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith is being urged by NSW MPs to establish a permanent gynaecological oncology unit in Canberra. Picture: Keegan Carroll

The ACT's Health Minister has been urged by Labor members of the NSW Parliament to commit funding to a permanent gynaecological cancer surgery unit at Canberra Hospital.

Rachel Stephen-Smith said conversations were ongoing about the possibility of a permanent service in the territory but a "significant population base" was needed to maintain a speciality service.

A group of doctors have been lobbying both the territory and federal government for funding for a permanent surgery unit for gynaecological cancers in Canberra.

The ACT has never had its own permanent public gynaecological cancer surgery service, instead the Royal Women's Hospital has provided a fortnightly clinic to Canberra for about 30 years but it is set to finish at the end of the year.

There is a specialist, Dr Leon Foster, who is prepared to start a service in Canberra but a firm commitment has not been made.

Any service that would be established in Canberra would service the surrounding region and Ms Stephen-Smith is being urged to take this into consideration.

Member for Bega Michael Holland and member for Keira Ryan Park issued a joint statement describing the potential loss of gynaecology oncology services in the ACT as "alarming news".

"We are concerned that women of southern NSW may be adversely affected by potentially compromised gynaecological cancer care in the ACT," Dr Holland and Mr Park said.

"The current visiting gynaecological oncologist is due to retire at the end of this year, leaving a potential deficit in women's cancer care in the ACT.

"This will impact the care of women in the neighbouring New South Wales electorates of Bega, Monaro, Goulburn, Wagga, Cootamundra and Albury."

Dr Holland and Mr Park, who is the NSW's opposition health spokesman, also urged NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to work with the ACT government to support a network of visiting specialists to maintain a functioning services in the territory.

Ms Stephen-Smith said she was aware of the call from the NSW MPs and said she would welcome a discussion with them.

She said discussions were continuing between the group of doctors and Canberra Health Services and that if the service could be sustainably established that it would be.

"So it is absolutely the case that for some speciality services a significant population base is required to maintain a speciality service," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"It's not just about the capacity to maintain a service that will support one specialist but we need to ensure that service is sustainable, that a whole team of people can be supported and that if something happens to the one person who is delivering that service that we can provide continuity of service for those women who would be accessing it."

Ms Stephen-Smith said she first became aware of this push in March but the group has been lobbying for the service for three years to health bureaucrats at Canberra Hospital. She has expressed "in-principle" support for the service.

"We will work very closely with them to understand what kind of service we can establish here in the ACT, if that's going to be sustainable and that's going to be safe for our consumers we will absolutely do that," she said.

"We've only had a few months to work through what that might look like in a very, very busy period."

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