Vital autopsies stalled by lack of pathologists

Families are waiting up to a year to receive the autopsy results of relatives because of a shortage of pathologists in WA, a national support group claims. The Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Support Group Network, which helps people affected by the fatal brain illness linked to mad cow disease, said some families were facing unacceptable delays finding out if their relative had the condition. This left their own health in limbo as some forms of CJD are inherited.

National co-ordinator Suzanne Solvyns said that, in WA, a shortage of neuropathologists to carry out the autopsies, test tissue and release their reports meant some families were waiting up to 12 months for the results. She intended to complain about the delay to WA’s acting director-general of health Peter Flett, who is a pathologist. “Normally families are told they have to wait three or four months but in WA there is this very long delay and it means they don’t know if it’s CJD and if they’re at risk,” she said.

Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia chief executive officer Debra Graves said there was a national shortage of pathologists which was causing long delays in autopsy reports being prepared and she was aware of concerns in WA. “We’re facing a huge crisis because, of our 1290 pathologists in active practice in Australia, 20 per cent are over the age of 60 and we’re just not producing enough pathologists,” she said. “WA has done some good work and created 18 new pathology registrar positions, which is less than what we need but is certainly a step in the right direction. This has been a neglected area around the country and even with the new positions it will take time to train them up.”

Dr Flett said Path West had more than 100 pathologists and had recruited a second highly specialised neuropathologist who was due to start work next month and would help improve the time it took for autopsy reports to be completed. “The cases are now being cleared as soon as possible and PathWest regrets any distress this may have caused families,” Dr Flett said. He added that Path- West had increased the number of training places from 31 to 50 over the past two years.

By Cathy O’Leary

Ref: 37706930 Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) licenced copy West Australian

17/06/2008
Page: 38
General News Region: Perth
Circulation: 203328
Type: Capital City Daily
Size: 160.37 sq.cms
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