'Only for the rich?': Residents voice concerns about cancer treatment options in Mandurah

Cancer treatment options in Mandurah have come under the spotlight after local residents voiced their concerns about the differing services available for public and private patients.

Earlier this year, the Mandurah Mail reported that Mandurah is a 'cancer hotspot', with the second highest incidence rate and the fourth highest mortality rate for cancer in the state.

However, cancer patients from around the Peel region have expressed their frustration regarding the difference in services available locally for public and private patients.

Health Minister Roger Cook confirmed the new Mandurah GenesisCare cancer centre provided oncology services to private patients and was not covered by any contract with the state government.

The purpose-built treatment facility in Greenfields has treated more than 160 private patients since it was officially opened in August.

Publicly funded radiation oncology is currently available for public patients at the GenesisCare facilities at Fiona Stanley Hospital and the South West Campus in Bunbury, with chemotherapy available at Peel Health Campus.

Mr Cook said private health insurance was not a requirement for radiation therapy at the GenesisCare Mandurah centre and public patients could still receive treatment there - for a price.

"The treating team will work with the patient to facilitate the most appropriate model of care depending on the patient's individual needs," he said.

"If this results in a referral to a private provider, the patient would be discharged from the public system and treated as a private patient."

Halo's chief executive officer and founder Dee Frietag was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in January.

She has recently undergone five weeks of radiation therapy at Mandurah's GenesisCare facility under her private health cover to help prevent the cancer from returning, following a double mastectomy earlier this year.

Dee, who is well known for her notorious strength and resilience, said she was thankful she could receive treatment locally but didn't know how public patients coped with the added pressure of long travel times.

[The government] should dump money into it because no-one should have to fight the government and fight for money while you're fighting for life.

Dee Frietag

"I think it's really good but I just wish it was available for everyone," she said.

"While this is great for me, I know people that can't access it and that's really sad."

Dee said the state government should step in to provide funding for all patients in the Peel region.

"I understand why GenesisCare have to charge but I don't understand why the government doesn't support it," she said.

"[The government] should dump money into it because no-one should have to fight the government and fight for money while you're fighting for life."

Coodanup resident and public patient Pam Mills has recently undergone radiation therapy at Fiona Stanley Hospital to treat her lung cancer, after having the upper lobe of her right lung removed earlier this year.

Pam was able to have her chemotherapy treatment through the public system at Peel Health Campus in September but, as with many cases of breast and lung cancer, must also have radiation to treat her cancer - which is only available at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Her husband Wayne Mills, 70, said it was "exhausting" travelling to Murdoch five days a week for six weeks.

Is it built only for the rich?

Wayne Mills

"We can't fault the treatment up there, which has been brilliant, and the chemo services down here at Peel Health Campus are you-beaut, absolutely magnificent and brilliant," he said.

"But it takes too much out of anyone who is already not feeling good and it's mainly older people who have to do this - they just can't handle it.

"Then I saw that GenesisCare was open but it was going to cost us thousands.

"Is it built only for the rich?"

Mr Mills said it was not only "inconvenient" but also becoming quite expensive.

"We can't take the train because [Pam] can't be exposed to germs from other people in case she catches a virus or infection, so we have to take precautions and drive the car up and back," he said.

"It costs about $30 a day for parking and fuel, which is about $300 a fortnight - where is this going to come from on a pension?

"Plus, Aubin Grove to Fiona Stanley is bumper-to-bumper traffic so it takes almost an hour-and-a-half to drive up for 10 minutes of radiation treatment."

Mr Mills questioned why patients still had to travel when there were state-of-the-art services now available in Mandurah.

It's no extra money but at least the quality of life would not diminish from all this travel and anxiety. It's a duty of care.

Wayne Mills

"If they already pay the bill [for public patients] at Fiona Stanley Hospital, why can't they do it down here?" he asked.

"It's going to cost them the same whether we get the services up there or down here - they are going to pay for it one way or the other.

"It's no extra money but at least the quality of life would not diminish from all this travel and anxiety. It's a duty of care."

Read more:

Mandurah MP David Templeman said he hoped it would be something the government could provide in the future.

"My aspiration is that anybody who requires radiation treatment, irrespective of whether they are public or private, should receive treatment locally," he said.

Dawesville MP and Shadow Health Minister Zak Kirkup said GenesisCare filled a vital gap in the Peel region but more cancer services were needed for everyone, "closer to home".

"I think GenesisCare being here is great because it is providing a service that we didn't have previously and they do really great work," he said.

"It is for people with private health cover but it is really important and it serves that need.

"However, there is a really good opportunity to look at basing a cancer treatment out of Mandurah or, if not here, then in Rockingham - rather than Murdoch only.

"For people that are going through cancer and that are suffering awfully, you want to make it as easy as possible for them.

"Bunbury has treatment options for public patients - I think Mandurah should as well - if not, looking at cancer treatment in the home where we can.

"It is something that we will be focusing very closely on in the lead-up to the next election."

My aspiration is that anybody who requires radiation treatment, irrespective of whether they are public or private, should receive treatment locally.

Mandurah MP David Templeman

GenesisCare WA oncology general manager Michael Davis said the organisation valued "access for all" and would continue working with the government to achieve the best possible outcomes for all patients.

"While our Mandurah centre is for private patients, we hold the view that state-of-the-art oncology care should be accessible to all patients," he said.

"We are very fortunate here in Australia to have a Medicare system that covers most of the costs associated with radiation oncology treatments - all a patient needs is a referral from either their specialist or GP to access care at our Mandurah facility.

"Treatment is personalised for each patient and we have a number of different payment plans to ensure all local residents, regardless of their economic situation, are able to access world-class care on their doorstep as a private patient.

"We work closely with the government, both federally and at a state level, to ensure all our patients are able to receive the same high-quality care, whether they are a public or private patient.

"We are very supportive of the WA government, who has been one of the most proactive states in terms of their expansion of public services for cancer patients."

Have an opinion? Send us a letter to editor@mandurahmail.com.au.