Cancer patient faces anxious wait as vital surgery is delayed due to coronavirus concerns


April 21, 2020 20:28:57

A north-west Tasmanian man says he is growing more worried every day as delays for urgent cancer surgery drag on because he is from the same region as the state’s coronavirus epicentre.

Key points:

  • Devonport man Phil Purnell fears his cancer is getting worse while he waits for a mastectomy
  • He says he is unable to have surgery because his local hospital is at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak
  • The Tasmanian Health Service says there has been no directive for private hospitals to deny treatment to any patient from outbreak areas

Tasmania COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases: 201
  • Deaths: 8

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Testing criteria are different for north-west residents.

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Devonport man Phil Purnell was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks ago and was scheduled for surgery in the North-West Private Hospital in Burnie.

But the surgery was cancelled because the hospital, alongside the North West Regional, was closed for deep cleaning after a coronavirus outbreak.

He first needed a biopsy but was unable to get one done through private providers in Launceston and Hobart.

His surgeon arranged for a mastectomy at the Hobart Private Hospital but that has been cancelled.

Mr Purnell said he was told private hospitals in the south and north were not willing to admit patients from the north-west because they were considered to be at a higher risk of having COVID-19.

Though he is now booked in for a biopsy later this week, Mr Purnell still does not know when or where the surgery will be done.

He said it had been a distressing experience.

“After having everything fall over, having my hopes put up and then down and then finding out that they wouldn’t let me into St Vincent’s (in Launceston) to have a test, or into the Hobart Private, or even the Royal Hobart to have the surgery, just knocked me for a six, I’m afraid,” Mr Purnell said.

“I understand they’re short on staff, I understand they’re worried about the virus being spread into the other areas, and I would be too, but it is hard.”

His partner, Vicki, said the couple were happy to be tested for coronavirus before entering any hospital, but they had not been given the option.

“We just feel at a loss, really, the best that we can hope for at this stage is to wait for the North West Private to reopen,” she said.

“It just grinds you down every day … we had no sleep last night and it’s just dreadful.”

The couple fear Mr Purnell’s condition could be worsening the longer they wait.

“The lump is getting harder, it’s getting sore and I think it’s getting bigger — that’s only been in two weeks, so we can’t afford to wait much longer,” Mrs Purnell said.

The surgery could be done in Melbourne, but the couple would have to undergo two weeks of quarantine in a hotel once they returned to Tasmania, which they said would be too much for Mr Purnell’s mental health.

Hospitals deny refusing north-west patients

At Tuesday’s coronavirus press conference, Health Minister Sarah Courtney said the Government was working to make sure patients received timely care.

“If there are challenges around that in the private sector, then we will work very closely with them … because Tasmanians that need high level clinical care, if that’s available they should not be missing out,” she said.

The operator of the Hobart Private Hospital, Healthscope, said it was following the Health Department guidelines.

“The Hobart Private Hospital is working in collaboration with the Royal Hobart Hospital to ensure all patients are referred to the appropriate facility for care as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak,” it said in a statement.

Calvary, which operates the St Vincent’s Hospital in Launceston where Mr Purnell sought a biopsy, said it did not comment on individual patients.

However, it had not refused to provide treatment to anyone from the north-west region.

I-MED Radiology Network conducts cancer screening at hospitals in Tasmania’s north and north-west and said it was continuing to cater for patients from the north-west.

Regional manager, Krishna Saward, said she could not comment on individual cases, but patients were screened for any COVID-19 risk factors in line with guidelines.

Ms Saward said if any risk factors were identified, I-MED staff would consult the patient’s doctor to determine if the procedure could be safely delayed, or if it should be conducted with special measures to prevent any risk to patients and staff.

The Tasmanian Health Service said there was no directive for private hospitals to refuse patients from the state’s north-west.

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First posted

April 21, 2020 19:54:05

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