GP Wayne Hurlow, Nurses Rebecca Whittaker and Lana Wilson, GP Mark Fry are part of a team helping with minor skin cancer surgeries. Photo: Jenny Nicholson.

GPs help local skin cancer waiting lists

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Local GPs have stepped up to help decrease a clogged waiting skin cancer surgery list.

Drs Mark Fry and Wayne Hurlow say that the Nelson Hospital system had many patients on a waitlist for skin cancer operations.

So, they stepped up to perform surgeries, such as small grafts that would previously have been performed by plastic surgeons, and have found it incredibly satisfying.

“Nelson-Tasman has one of the highest rates of cancer in a country that arguably has the highest rate in the world,” says Mark. And it is increasing.

In the past five years, referrals for skin cancer surgery have increased by 50 per cent.

Mark and Wayne are General Practitioners with a ‘Special Interest’ or GPSIs.

They have two years formal training in skin cancer care with six months of that working with a specialist in a hospital.

“The whole idea of GPSIs is to bring patients out of the hospital into general practice, to free up the hospital and the specialists,” says Mark.

Patients with probable skin cancer can be referred by their doctor to the skin cancer service.

All referrals are assessed by Mark, alongside general surgeon Dr Susan Seifried.

From there, some patients are returned for GP care, some are referred on to specialists, but many are referred to the GPSIs.

Because the GPSI service is funded by the primary health organisation, it is free to the patient.

“Over a year we triage about 2500 patients,” says Mark.

Patients who are referred to GPSIs will usually have their initial consultation within eight days of referral with surgery about 12 days later.

In a recent review of the service, a patient satisfaction survey found 98 per cent were either satisfied or very satisfied.

While the service is free to the patient, it is also cost-effective to the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board as the estimated cost of a patient seeing GPSI is between 12 and 20 per cent of the cost of seeing a specialist in the hospital.

“The service is more efficient, quicker and cost-effective. We could do more if there was more funding,” says Mark.

Dr Wayne Hurlow says there is a huge need for GPSIs in the region, particularly because of the number of rural workers.

“Their exposure to the sun increasing their chances of skin cancer.”