The hospital's cancer centre and its services are helping cancer patients through one of the toughest fights of their lives.

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital-Boss Magazine


Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (SCGH) first opened its doors in 1958 and has been providing high-quality tertiary services to Western Australia ever since. Over 5,500 staff provide care—from trauma, emergency and critical care to orthopaedics, general medicine, general surgery and cardiac care—to 420,000 patients a year. SCGH is home to Professor Barry Marshall, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005 for his groundbreaking work demonstrating that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria and not stress.

The hospital is the state’s principal hospital for neurosurgery and liver transplants, and has the largest cancer treatment centre in the state. Venture Magazine spoke to Thomas Tuchyna, operations manager of oncology and Health Minister Award winner at the WA Health Excellence Awards, about the centre’s establishment, the services it offers its patients, and future plans for SCGH.

Teen Cancer Centre with CanTeen

The expanded cancer centre has allowed for SCHG to offer more services to patients in need. Construction on the expansion was completed in 2013, and included space for a teen cancer centre.
During the planning phases for the cancer centre, the Australian Commonwealth Government’s health ministry was approached by an organisation called CanTeen – a national organisation supporting young people aged 15-25, living with cancer. CanTeen shared that there is a need for a more catered young adult service in oncology. At first, the commonwealth did not provide much of a response, but after the organisation teamed up with Sony, the expansion at SCGH was chosen to host the new teen centre.

A dedicated 250 square metres makes up the cancer centre, which sees 10 to 15 teens with cancer—or teens who have family members with cancer—a week. Counselors, educators, a nurse, a doctor, and an operations manager help teens cope with cancer by providing wellness programmes, counseling, and advice to care for themselves outside of the hospital.

“In terms of service, the teen centre is fantastic,” Tuchyna shared. “In Western Australia, there are 150 new young people diagnosed with cancer, so we’ve provided a full range of support services to about 10 per cent of them. We’re the first state facility to implement something along these lines.”

SolarisCare Centre— Holistic Care for Adults

Prior to having the teen cancer centre on site, SCGH has been home to a similar space for adults since 2001. A larger, more comprehensive SolarisCare Centre opened in 2012 with improved spaces and services in the hospital’s new cancer centre.

The original centre was highly controversial at its inauguration, as it embraced a range of carefully selected and supervised complementary therapies to provide support to people with cancer. These carefully selected and supervised holistic approaches to care include counseling, massage, music therapy, and several other therapies that complement the high-tech elements of Western medicine and the latest drug breakthroughs cancer patients have access to. The centre is well supported and staffed now, and are “providing a lot of good for a lot of people,” Tuchyna said.

SolarisCare now oversees four centres in total in metropolitan and rural/regional Western Australia and treats over 8,000 Western Australians with cancer each year.  So-called psycho-oncology research is also conducted through SolarisCare and other departments of the building.

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital-Boss Magazine


Australia’s Only CyberKnife

The crowning jewel of the new cancer centre is the CyberKnife, a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of tumours. Although there are around 300 devices around the world, SCGH has the only CyberKnife in Australia.

The appeal from a medical and patient perspective is easy to understand. It is highly accurate and regularly automatically checks its targeting during treatment.  A normal linear accelerator—or linac—machine is able to deliver a treatment beam between 20 to 40 centimetres wide: the CyberKnife’s beam can be as small as 0.5 centimetres. This means a larger dose can be delivered with just one treatment.

“Imagine the difference of force between walking in a high heel or a snowshoe,” Tuchyna explained. “You’re able to provide much more force with a step in a high heel because the force is directed in a smaller surface area. The beam from the CyberKnife works in much of the same way.”

Because the beam is smaller, there are fewer adverse side effects like attacking healthy tissue. Typically only three treatments with the Cyberknife are necessary, instead of six to eight weeks’ worth of treatments. It’s unlike anything else in radiation oncology in terms of precision and accuracy, and provides a more comfortable experience overall.

Space for the CyberKnife had to be set aside during the planning phase for the hospital, as there are a lot of connections that go through the floor, have to be in specific locations, and lead from the treatment room to other adjacent rooms. The CyberKnife has delivered better cancer care to around 240 patients in its first year, and the team at SCGH’s cancer centre are planning on working to accommodate more people.

From a business standpoint, one can understand why there is only one CyberKnife in Australia. Every time the hospital treats a patient using the machine, the reimbursement the hospital receives is limited because Medicare does not yet recognise the technology in its own right until it has undergone an Australian assessment.

“The company behind CyberKnife has applied for approval for reimbursement on the machine, but we’re not sure if and when it will come through. But we know it provides a great service for our patients, so that’s good enough for us now.”

Ten-Year Hospital Plan

The hospital site as a whole will become much larger in the coming years, with a whole range of buildings and services being added. In the next two years a children’s hospital and a Ronald McDonald house is being relocated to SCGH, as well as a research institute. In the next six years, Tuchyna expects a women’s hospital.

The implementation of Elekta’s MOSAIQ OIS, an oncology information system, will be completed by 2016.

“It is a major advantage to locate all these services under one roof in the new cancer centre, but we needed a coordinated, central approach to information management, common to all cancer services and in support of some 500 cancer centre staff,” said Tuchyna. “Currently, the systems don’t talk to each other, and that has resulted in some major difficulties. We recognised that the MOSAIQ features, functionality, scope and, in particular, interoperability and information integration between disciplines would be highly beneficial in the new centre.”

The hospital currently has a new mental health building in construction that will be completed within the next few months, and a new pathology laboratory that offers a new range of services.