Planning for the provision of radiation therapy in Gippsland started in 2002, with the recognition that, firstly, patients in Gippsland had much poorer outcomes after a cancer diagnosis than patients in metropolitan regions; and secondly, patients with cancer in Gippsland had serious challenges if they needed radiation therapy because of the need to move to the city, often for protracted periods of time for treatment.
The need for easily-accessible local services had to be balanced against the idea that modern radiation treatments are the most complicated medical procedures performed in modern hospitals, and these treatments—some people felt—were always going to be of worse quality in distant regional centres than in the academic and large city centres.
The need to address these concerns led to the strong and essential partnership between Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) and Alfred Health. Latrobe Regional Hospital provided the central facility, the advice and help on the local regional networks, and the connections with other health providers and all the local clinical and support services of the LRH. Alfred Health provided the experience, knowhow, and the quality assurance framework essential for safe effective timely radiation therapies.
Construction of the radiation therapy facility began in what was to become the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre in October 2004 and was completed in May 2006. Patient treatments commenced June 2006. The LRH-Alfred Health partnership has meant that the LRH facility has been able to call on immediate staff, experience, backup, and advice whenever needed. For unusual highly-specialised problems that could not be best looked after locally, the Gippsland patients could be seamlessly transferred to the academic tertiary care centre at the Alfred and often managed by the same consultant radiation oncology staff that they knew from Traralgon.
Since then, the LRH centre had gone from strength to strength. The patient numbers have steadily increased along with increasing numbers of radiation therapists, radiation oncology medical physicists, and specialist radiation oncologists. There are now three radiation oncologists in Traralgon, able to provide the full range of specialist advice, and able to attend multi-disciplinary team meetings as well as outreach clinics in wider Gippsland.
LRH was provided with Australian Government support to develop a Regional Comprehensive Cancer Centre in 2010, allowing the acquisition, installation and commissioning of a second linear accelerator in 2011. The radiation oncology service at LRH now has two modern linear accelerators, each with the most modern "on-board" imaging to allow the most sophisticated image-guided treatment and Volumetrically-Modulated Arc Therapies (VMAT). In doing this they became the first regional centre in Victoria to offer this form of radiation therapy. The completion of the new oncology day-ward and rooms adjacent to the radiation treatment centre, along with a number of recruitments of medical oncology and haematology cancer specialists to work with the Traralgon radiation oncologists has revolutionised the team and infrastructure available to help look after Gippsland's cancer patients.