Professor Ehtesham Abdi at Tweed Hospital. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News
Professor Ehtesham Abdi at Tweed Hospital. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News John Gass

Doctor sick of juggling lives

DOCTORS are being forced to play God with patients' lives as they deal with a critical shortage of beds, a senior Tweed Hospital physician has warned.

Dr Ehtesham Abdi, a professor and the head of oncology at the facility, said doctors were "juggling lives" to re-organise appointments so patients with aggressive cancers could be seen in one of 12 chemotherapy treatment beds as a priority.

Meanwhile, other cancer patients were left to wait up to three months for treatment. Dr Abdi said this was "unacceptable" and life- threatening.

"Many, many, many studies have shown if you delay chemotherapy for bowel cancer or breast cancer and for lungs, for more than three months, then it doesn't work," he said.

In 2008, there were 7000 occasions of service in the Tweed cancer clinic and in 2014 there were 18,047. In the same period, the number of patients has almost quadrupled, with 2068 in 2008 and 8082 in 2014.

As a result, the oncology clinic was forced to send a letter to specialists in November asking them to stop referring new patients.

"It shouldn't be me sitting down to go through letter after letter after letter to decide who should be seen sooner, because somebody has bigger needs," Dr Abdi said.

"It's not fair on the community," he said.

He said the services were fragmented and held together with "a Band-Aid".

There are no PET scans or radiation therapy at Tweed, so patients must choose between paying up to $3000 at John Flynn Private or, commuting to Lismore for up to six weeks.

Dr Abdi said Tweed State MP Geoff Provest and Richmond Federal MP Justine Elliot had to take their share of the blame for grid-lock in the Tweed cancer clinic.

"Our local member (Geoff Provest) has not been helpful in helping us with our cause (redevelopment)," Dr Abdi said. "I have spoken to him many times, for 10years, and I gave up about five years ago.

"We were getting no-where.

"He had achieved nothing."

Dr Abdi was incensed a hospital redevelopment - proposed to the health ministry in 2013 - had not been funded.

"We have been short-changed by NSW Health," Dr Abdi said.

"They have never looked at this place favourably in terms of providing services and our population, which is increasing at a much more faster rate than the rest of northern NSW."

He criticised Mrs Elliot, previously Minister for Aged Care in Nursing, for not doing more for the hospital.

"... You would think that cancer, being an old people disease, aged care would have been a very important portfolio for people to look at and help us, but she didn't help us either."

Despite a recent social media push against Mr Provest, Mrs Elliot's office said it was incorrect for Dr Abdi to hold her accountable, because the hospital did not come under her portfolio.

Tweed Labor candidate Ron Goodman said if elected he "would be the squeaky wheel who gets the grease" for clinicians.

"Provest has had four years to do something and somewhere in the shadow of an election he's pretending he's getting things done," Mr Goodman said.

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