Aim: In this study we estimated (a) the number of linear accelerators required in Australia and New Zealand to achieve a 52.3% treatment rate; (b) the ‘GAP’ between the actual and required number of linear accelerators; c) the number of persons not treated (PNT), premature deaths (PD) and years of life lost (YLL) as a result of the ‘GAP’; and (d) to review the actions being taken by health jurisdictions in Australia and in New Zealand to address the ‘GAP’ and reach the 52.3% treatment rate.
Material and Methods: The actual number of fully staffed and operating linear accelerators (A) in Australian and New Zealand was obtained from a survey of radiotherapy facilities in December 2009. The required number of linear accelerators (R) was calculated from the projected cancer incidence figures for 2009 and was based on 1.6 linear accelerators being required per 1000 new cancer patients. The ‘GAP’ in Radiotherapy services (G) was R minus A. The maximum treatment capacity (MTC) was the ratio of A over R multiplied by 52.3%, assuming that all linear accelerators were operating at 100% capacity. As each linear accelerator can treat 331 new patients each year, the number of new cancer PNT is G × 331. The estimated 5-year survival benefit from radiotherapy is 16%, and the average survival for all patients receiving radiotherapy (radical and palliative) is 0.76 year. Hence, the number of PD attributed to the ‘GAP’ is PNT × 16%, and the YLL to cancer is PNT × 0.76. A literature search and local knowledge of health department Radiotherapy Plans in all jurisdictions were used to determine the action being taken to achieve a 52.3% treatment rate.
Results: In 2009, the ‘GAP’ was 50 linear accelerators in Australia and the MTC was 38%, the same as it was in 1999, but there has been an increase in PNT each year from 7419 in 1999 to 16 550 in 2009, and PD each year increased from 1187 in 1999 to 2649 in 2009, and YLL each year increased from 5638 in 1999 to 12 585 in 2009. In New Zealand in 2009, the ‘GAP’ was nine linear accelerators and the MTC was 38%. An estimated 3310 persons did not receive radiotherapy in 2009 in New Zealand, and as a result, there were 523 PD and 2266 YLL. The review showed that new and replacement machines were being installed in all jurisdictions in Australia and in New Zealand. Only Victoria and Queensland have a Radiotherapy Plan beyond 2010, but both have underestimated the projected cancer incidence.
Conclusion: Urgent action is needed by health departments and governments on both sides of the Tasman to improve access and equity to this essential cancer treatment. There is merit in the Baume Report recommendation of establishing a national body to oversee radiotherapy services in all jurisdictions in Australia. A similar central body should also be considered for New Zealand.