Monday, December 31, 2007

Deal to treat cancer kids

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Boards join forces to keep sick children in capital
RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Families of Wellington child cancer patients sent away from home for treatment are relieved that agreement has been reached with Christchurch on creating a joint paediatric oncology service.

At a meeting yesterday, clinical staff and managers from Capital and Coast and Canterbury district health boards drew up a memorandum of understanding for a joint service - the only hope of restoring tertiary, or advanced, services to the central region.

Since the sudden resignation of Wellington's second paediatric oncologist in July, at least 12 children have had to be sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Jason Milne, whose daughter Kyah, 2, is having treatment in Christchurch, said joining forces with Canterbury was "a great idea and a big step forward ... Frankly, Wellington needs all the help it can get at the moment."

Though the agreement must be formally ratified by the boards in the new year, both have agreed in principle to the concept of a single child cancer service operating from sites in Christchurch and Wellington.

Canterbury's chief medical officer, Nigel Millar, said children would still need to travel to Christchurch or Auckland till two paediatric oncologists were appointed to Capital and Coast, but it was then hoped that children would be cared for in the centre closest to their homes.

Capital and Coast's clinical director of child health, Graeme Lear, said it had taken a tremendous amount of collaboration between the two clinical teams to get to this point.

"We are satisfied that we now have the basis of a safe, quality, sustainable service for children and their families in our region."

Five families from the central region are based in Christchurch at present. Some who had returned home were sent back to Christchurch this week because Wellington's remaining paediatric oncologist is on leave.

Kyah, who was diagnosed in July with a neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the adrenal glands, is in isolation after a stem cell transplant, which followed surgery and several courses of chemotherapy. Mr Milne said it had not yet been confirmed whether the last part of her treatment - radiotherapy - would be done in Wellington or Christchurch.

Health Minister David Cunliffe welcomed the boards' decision, saying children and their families required certainty about where and when treatment would be given.

Wellington Child Cancer Foundation chairman John Robson said that, though he commended the hard work that had gone into creating a memorandum of understanding, he would "hold off celebrating" till Wellington had a second paediatric oncologist, which would allow sick children to stay near home.

"They've signed off on it, now let's see them deliver it," he said.

A locum is due to start in January for six months and recruitment efforts continue to find two permanent specialists before oncologist Anne Mitchell leaves next month.

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