Monday, December 31, 2007

Cancer kids to travel for at least six months

'Where the hell do you go?'

KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post | Friday, 26 October 2007






These are the human faces of Capital and Coast DHB's child cancer crisis. Already this year, 26 young children with various forms of cancer have been through Wellington Hospital. Nine of those kids have been forced out of the region to undergo treatment elsewhere. Six have gone to Auckland's Starship hospital, and three have been sent to Canterbury. Until two new paediatric oncologists can be found for Wellington, children as young as three will have to leave their homes in order to be treated.

Sick cancer kids in need of potentially life-saving treatment will continue to be sent out of the lower North Island for at least another six months.
Lifeline for child cancer patients
Call to keep up service for kids with cancer

That hinges on a deal that is yet to be signed between the Capital and Coast and Canterbury district health boards - and the ability of Capital and Coast to recruit child cancer specialists who are already thin on the ground.

Until those two issues are resolved, Wellington Hospital will farm out children to Auckland or Christchurch.

"We won't reopen as a tertiary centre until we have got the resources," said Martin Hefford, chief operating officer for Capital and Coast.

"We absolutely regret having to tell families and their children that they have to go to Auckland for treatment, but that's better than us trying to provide care without adequate resources."

The child cancer clinic at Wellington Hospital has been offering secondary care since July, after being stripped of its tertiary status following the resignation of paediatric oncologist Liz Hesketh.

The crisis at the beleaguered clinic deepened on Wednesday with the resignation of its sole remaining cancer doctor, Anne Mitchell, who will leave in January.

"They need to consider that it's people they are dealing with here," said Lea White, whose four-year-old daughter, Bianca, has a form of leukaemia. "I'm really disappointed it's got to this point."

Leanne Palenski questioned what she would do if her 13-year-old daughter, Shannon - who has a brain tumour - gets sicker. The pair would normally travel to Wellington from their home in Masterton and would struggle to get to either Auckland or Christchurch because Shannon should not fly. "It makes you wonder where the hell you go," Ms Palenski said. "It's just disgusting."

Mr Hefford said the two oncology jobs should be filled in six months.

Nine children have been sent out of Wellington since July, six to Auckland and three to Christchurch. Some families have been forced to uproot their lives to be near their sick children. They are also burdened with extra costs - their local district health boards pick up the tab for travel and accommodation, but only for the sick child and one caregiver.

If a mother and father want to be together with their child, they have to pay the additional costs themselves.

Mr Hefford would not reveal how much transferring young patients to other centres has cost so far.

Health Minister Pete Hodgson was questioned on the Wellington situation in Parliament yesterday and said he was concerned.

Margaret Alve, Family Support Coordinator for the Child Cancer Foundation, said the Wellington service had been under-resourced for at least eight years.

The health region needed a separate paediatric oncology unit to protect vulnerable child cancer patients from bugs and infections. "It's not only about funding two paediatric oncologists."

Mrs Alve said the long-term future of the cancer service was in jeopardy if its problems could not be solved by the start of next year.

"If we don't manage it now, we never will," she said.

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