Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wellington cancer specialist 'too dear' to keep

By REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post | Monday, 21 April 2008

The locum hired by Wellington Hospital to fill in when its last child cancer specialist left is now also departing.

Paediatrician Lewis Ingram's contract has ended and he will return to Britain. He began working for Capital and Coast District Health Board in January, to fill a gap left by departing paediatric oncologist Anne Mitchell.

He was appointed with the possibility of staying an extra three months and is registered to work here till the end of July.

Two new child cancer specialists are due to begin in October.

The board says it will use another hospital paediatrician to fill the gap left by Dr Ingram till then.

A worried parent who contacted The Dominion Post said he had told her it was too expensive for the board to keep paying his accommodation costs and wages.

"He said, `It's not that I want to go, it's just the fact they have decided it's too expensive'.

"He was here short-term, we realise that. But I thought he was here for six months."

Another mother said she, too, had understood he would be here for a further three months.

"It's like we're back to square one again."

Capital and Coast clinical director of child health Graeme Lear said the board had considered extending Dr Ingram's contract but decided to cover his position by using an existing Wellington Hospital paediatrician. He had helped the hospital get through a transition period.

Though employing Dr Ingram had been "very pricey" - the board paid for him to stay in an apartment and provided a vehicle - funding was not behind the decision.

Dr Lear said parents of child cancer patients would notice little difference. Neither Dr Ingram nor the paediatrician who would step into his role were paediatric oncologists, though they had an interest in oncology. He understood parents felt anxious.

Wellington's child cancer service had been a secondary service rather than a tertiary (advanced) one while Dr Ingram had worked there. It would continue to be so till paediatric oncologists Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao arrived from Germany in October. Complicated procedures and treatments would continue to be provided at Christchurch or Auckland hospitals till then.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

No more tough trips for Bianca

TOM FITZSIMONS - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 03 April 2008


CHEERY AND CHEEKY: Leukaemia sufferer Bianca White, 4, enjoys a fresh-air break outside the Grace Neill block.

While Bianca White laughed and tasted fresh air for the first time in days, her father gave thanks that the "axe blow" to Wellington Hospital's child cancer unit had been staved off.

"We're happy," Terence White said yesterday outside the hospital where four-year-old Bianca is in an isolation unit.

"We do think Wellington should have an oncology service. It's the capital city of New Zealand - and we'd really like to have some certainty."

Bianca was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia last June, beginning a course of treatment more than two years long. Though the most intensive chemotherapy had finished - and her hair was starting to grow back - Bianca was put back into isolation earlier this week because of a recurring case of shingles.

Hospital staff let her have 10 minutes outside in a Wellington southerly yesterday afternoon. But despite not being able to push the button in the lift or shake hands, Bianca was full of cheek - joking with her dad as she rode aloft on his shoulders.

"She's been as cheery as we have been," Mr White said. "At the end of the day, it's something that has happened. It doesn't do a lot of good being sad about it."

Going to Christchurch for treatment before Christmas had been tough, and further trips or a permanent move would have been jarring for the family, he said. Temporary doctors at Wellington were helpful, but there were no options if they were sick or Bianca had problems after-hours.

The shortage had been "pretty much like an axe blow" and other families had suffered more than them, shuttling back and forth to other hospitals.

Cancer unit saved

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Two new child specialists hired; old block to be kept as children's hospital

REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 03 April 2008

Children with cancer will get treatment closer to home after Wellington Hospital hired two specialists from Germany to boost its ailing service.

Wellington's sick children are also set to get a new hospital after Capital and Coast District Health Board decided to keep a building previously scheduled to face the wrecking ball.

The board plans to move children's services to the larger Grace Neill building once the new hospital building in Newtown opens.

The board announced yesterday it had recruited two paediatric oncologists - Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao - from Germany. The pair are expected to start work in October.

Twenty-one children have been sent to Auckland or Christchurch for tertiary (complex) cancer treatment since the sudden resignation of one of Wellington's cancer doctors last July. Its remaining specialist finished in January.

In a bid to save the service, Capital and Coast signed a memorandum of understanding with Canterbury DHB in December to provide a joint service. That memorandum still stands.

Clinical director of child health Graeme Lear said it had been a difficult time.

"We acknowledge and regret the difficulties experienced by patients, their families and staff over the past few months, but we plan to bring this service back up to a full tertiary paediatric oncology service as soon as possible."

The board would continue working with other district health boards till the new doctors arrived. Dr Lear said the pair's skills would benefit the entire country.

Health Minister David Cunliffe said he was delighted with the appointments, which came after he made it clear to the board "something had to be done and done quickly".

Chief operating officer Martin Hefford told a board meeting yesterday that one of the doctors would work part-time at Wellington's medical school. The board would continue looking for a third oncologist.

Ronald McDonald House Wellington chief executive Lesley Slieker had met the doctors when they visited the house a few weeks ago and she said they would be a fantastic asset to the city.

"We're really delighted for the families who have been pushed to the limit over the last few months."

Child Cancer Foundation spokesman John Robson said the need to travel to Auckland or Christchurch had placed added pressure on families and stretched the foundation's resources.

The 11-storey Grace Neill block, planned for the children's hospital, currently contains women's health, maternity services and wards - services that will be moved to the new hospital when it is completed at the end of this year.

Original hospital redevelopment plans did not include the building but interim chief executive Derek Milne said keeping it would give a bigger space for the children's hospital.

A connecting tunnel would be built between the new building and the Grace Neill block.

The existing children's hospital would be converted to offices.

The plan will use $10 million the board has remaining in its redevelopment budget on refurbishments.