9 April 2024

New 'Rolls-Royce' endoscopy suite at North Canberra Hospital to help tackle surgery backlog

| Claire Fenwicke
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nurse sterilising endoscopy equipment

An equipment cleaning and processing room was part of the almost $1.5 million upgrade to expand North Canberra Hospital’s endoscopy capabilities. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The North Canberra Hospital has gained another endoscopy surgery suite as the public health system continues to slog its way through almost 4000 backlogged appointments.

The ACT Government invested $1.467 million to upgrade and expand the endoscopy suite, which included refurbishing a second surgery space, the equipment cleaning and processing room, waiting and consultation rooms, and a sterile store area.

There are currently two endoscopy surgery wait lists in the ACT – a central list managed by Canberra Health Services (CHS) and one just for North Canberra Hospital (NCH) as a legacy of its previous owner.

CHS currently completes between 5000 and 5500 endoscopies a year – with some outsourced to Queanbeyan Hospital – while NCH does about 2000 endoscopies a year from its own waitlist.

This upgrade will allow 500 more surgeries at the NCH over the rest of this financial year and 1500 to 2000 additional endoscopies in the next financial year.

“It’s a really significant increase in the capacity for public endoscopy services and utilising some of the latest technology,” Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

“We’re seeing a really substantial refreshing and modernisation of our endoscopy facilities across both of our public hospitals, as well as working together to start bringing down that Territory-wide waitlist.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said a “significant” number of the approximately 3900 people on the CHS waitlist were over the clinically recommended wait times due to the backlog, but that about half of the category 1 surgeries had now been cleared.

“We know we’ve got a lot more to do, particularly in that category 2 and 3 cohort … [that’s] why it’s really important that we continue to increase capacity,” she said.

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The ACT Government had hoped to deliver an additional 5000 endoscopy surgeries a year by the end of this term.

This target won’t be reached.

“There’s probably been a combination of changes in decision-making on where we were going to invest in that new capacity at Canberra Hospital,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“That means we now have to wait for the opening of Building 5 [at Canberra Hospital], wait for Building 12 to be freed up, and wait for some of the work to be done in Women’s and Children’s-dedicated theatres there before we can finalise [the endoscopy] work at Canberra Hospital.”

The plan is to start early construction works on upgrading and expanding Canberra Hospital’s endoscopy suites in 2025.

nurse in hospital stockroom

North Canberra Hospital clinical nurse consultant Feby Joshua Daniel taking stock of the resources in the endoscopy suites’ new storeroom. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The focus is now on the benefits this new suite will bring to Canberrans and those from interstate who need endoscopy procedures.

NCH gastroenterologist Dr James Riddell said while the space had been available for a second suite, staffing shortages and equipment meant they couldn’t use it.

He described the new equipment as the “Rolls-Royce” of technology with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to further enhance the detection of polyps.

“Polyp detection is a really important part of our business, as polyps are the forerunners – in most cases – of cancer,” Dr Riddell said.

“We just see the lining of the bowel more clearly. We can see more polyps. We can actually get down to individual cells now with some of the functions on these pieces of equipment.

“This step has enormously advanced our ability to find important things.”

It’s especially important as the Commonwealth considers expanding the National Bowel Screening Program. Currently, it is free for those aged 50 to 75, but the age range could be lowered to 45.

“We are seeing an increase in young people with colorectal cancers – that’s a little bit frightening – and we’ve become more and more prepared to accept that younger people can have cancer, even if they present with symptoms that once upon a time we would have dismissed because they were so young,” Dr Riddell said.

More is also being done to ensure there is staff available to carry out these extra procedures, with nurses undertaking three-month training programs to assist with endoscopies. The CHS has a targeted talent attraction team to attract more specialists to the ACT.

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Australian Medical Association ACT president Dr Walter Abhayaratna welcomed the announcement but said, “Unfortunately, it’s not enough”.

“The issue is not only the thousands of people on the waitlist [already] but those coming onto it who need to be assessed … we do not have a solution.”

He said Canberra needed more suites and staff and more efficiency around recovery resources.

Dr Abhayratna also questioned why the government hadn’t better-prioritised endoscopy facilities at Canberra Hospital.

“Why didn’t it feel such a big wait list needed to be addressed?” he asked.

“We’re missing people who potentially could have cancer.”

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Capital Retro8:58 am 09 Apr 24

It’s referring to the epitome of the technology technology which is a relief as the thought of something as big as a Rolls Royce, no, we won’t go there.

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