Monday, December 31, 2007

Call to keep up service for kids with cancer

By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Monday, 24 September 2007

Parents of child cancer patients are demanding that Capital and Coast District Health Board honour a commitment made in 2004 to employ two oncologists and maintain the region's treatment unit.

Since the resignation of one of its two paediatric oncologists in July, Wellington Hospital has been forced to transfer seven children who needed intensive treatment to ensure their clinical safety.

Child health manager Kaye Hudson said the board was awaiting the final report by an Australian paediatric oncologist, Professor Ross Pinkerton, who carried out a review of the paediatric oncology service last month.

One option under consideration included an alliance with Canterbury DHB, which would ensure both centres maintained advanced paediatric oncology services.

Merging the two services did not mean children would have to be sent away for treatment, she said.

Patients would only be transferred if Wellington Hospital was full, or if they needed bone marrow treatment, which could be performed in Auckland only.

Video conferencing and outreach clinics would enhance support for secondary treatment centres at other hospitals in the region.

The Wellington paediatric oncology service - one of only three in New Zealand - can care for 25 patients at a time and serves a region of 500,000 people.

However, low patient numbers threaten the unit's financial viability.

Having fewer patients also means nursing and medical staff risk missing out on necessary experience for training and development.

Wairarapa couple Denise and Steve Haswell's daughter Brianna, 9, was found to have acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2004.

She has completed her treatment and undergoes two-monthly checkups.

In a letter to the review team, her parents asked the board to "honour a commitment" made that year to employ two oncologists and maintain the paediatric oncology unit.

"Cancer admissions do not work to a schedule," they wrote.

"Where would we go for unexpected treatment? Who is going to ensure, and pay, for other DHBs to cope with oncology patients admitted with high temperatures or low blood counts (or anything else)?

"We are simply asking that CCDHB honour the commitment they made in 2004 to provide a safe and viable oncology unit.

"We feel strongly that the services we valued should be retained at Wellington so as to ensure the safety of our children and the sanity of our families."

National MP Katrina Shanks said reports on tertiary services in 1994 and 1995 outlined an urgent need for more investment in staff and infrastructure in paediatric oncology - yet 13 years on, services had been allowed to run down.

"We have got to the point where they are having to fly children all over the country for treatment because they can't offer a safe service here."

Clinical staff at Wellington Hospital had told her children's services had "always been the poor relation" at Capital and Coast.

"It's unfair on these children's families."

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