Objective: To map clinical oncology services in regional and rural Australia.
Design and setting: A self-administered survey was sent to 161 regional hospitals administering chemotherapy (RHAC) in Australia. RHAC were categorised by state, Hospital Peer Group and the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) Remoteness Areas classification.
Main outcome measure(s): Survey data provided percentage and aggregate figures about availability of medical, radiation and surgical oncologists, chemotherapy nurses, breast cancer nurses, palliative care physicians and allied health professionals according to remoteness and state. Chemotherapy prescribing practices, adherence to occupational health and safety guidelines and availability of multidisciplinary clinics were also explored.
Results: A 98% survey completion rate was achieved. Significant deficiencies in service provision were identified in RHAC. Only 21% of RHAC reported a resident medical oncology service, 7% had a radiation oncology unit, and 6% had a resident surgical oncologist. Only 24% of RHAC reported a dedicated palliative care specialist and 39% identified a dedicated oncology counselling service. Other issues included administration of chemotherapy by nurses outside a recognised facility or by nurses without recognised oncology training, limited availability of funded breast care nurses and lack of multidisciplinary clinics.
Conclusion: Survey data highlight marked cancer service deficiencies in rural and regional Australia. It is not unreasonable to conclude that these deficiencies might contribute to poorer outcomes for cancer patients living in these areas. The results suggest the need for short- and long-term measures to improve access to best-practice cancer services for patients living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.