Monday, December 31, 2007

Travel blow for Wellington cancer children

By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 19 September 2007

CRAIG SIMCOX/Dominion Post

STICKING TOGETHER: Whitby mum Christine Lankshear, with daughter Phoebe, who has leukaemia, is alarmed Wellington child cancer patients may have to be sent to other regions for treatment.

Seriously ill child cancer patients will be sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment if Wellington loses its tertiary service.

Since the resignation of one of its two paediatric oncologists in July, Wellington Hospital has been forced to transfer seven children to the other centres because the unit was considered clinically unsafe.

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

The board is awaiting the final report of a review by Australian paediatric oncologist, Professor Ross Pinkerton of Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane, who visited the hospital last month.

However, it is understood preliminary findings suggest an advanced tertiary treatment unit in Wellington is no longer viable.

The preferred option involves the creation of a single tertiary service - or "virtual centre" - to cover both Wellington and the South Island, sharing staff and resources.

This would avoid the complete closure of advanced tertiary services in Wellington, which would mean every newly diagnosed child cancer patient and those with complex needs would have to be sent to Christchurch or Starship children's hospital in Auckland.

Capital and Coast's chief operating officer, Martin Hefford, said Professor Pinkerton's report, accompanied by management views, was likely to be considered by the board in October or November.

"The initial view expressed by the review team included a recommendation that Capital and Coast explore the option of an alliance with Christchurch for the future provision of paediatric oncology services ..."

Discussions had started with Canterbury District Health Board.

Meanwhile, the board was trying to appoint a locum.

Whitby mother Christine Lankshear, whose daughter Phoebe, 5, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia two years ago, said she was worried the board had stopped advertising for a new paediatric oncologist pending the review.

"It's like they've created a chicken and egg situation: the review is not going to be favourable if they have no oncologist."

The past two years for Phoebe, her parents and three older siblings has been a sickening round of hospital visits, chemotherapy, life-threatening infections, needles, nausea and financial strain.

Being able to stay together as a family has been their lifeline.

"You need the support of your partner and children, all your friends and family to make this living hell bearable."

Senior clinicians have expressed concern that if Wellington lost its tertiary paediatric oncology services, it would have a flow-on effect to other specialties because child cancer patients often needed the help of more than one specialist.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists' executive director, Ian Powell, said the loss of one specialty would exacerbate retention and recruitment problems for the whole hospital.

The mother of one of seven Wellington children sent away for treatment said it was hugely disruptive.

Shanell Christian and Jason Milne had to go to Christchurch within 24 hours of learning their 19-month-old daughter, Kyah, had cancer.

Ms Christian told The Dominion Post yesterday that though Kyah was responding well to treatment, it was likely to be many months before the family could be together again.

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