Monday, May 12, 2008

Family quit Wellington for Bianca's cancer care

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post Tuesday, 13 May 2008


ON THE MOVE: Bianca White with parents Lea and Terence and younger sister Caitlyn. `We would rather stay in Wellington . . . but personally I don't feel it's that safe at the moment,' Mrs White says.

Faced with the prospect of another five months without a paediatric oncologist in Wellington, Bianca White's parents are moving to Auckland to be nearer specialist services.

Bianca, 4, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia last June, two weeks before her birthday.

The timing could not have been worse: in July, Wellington Hospital was forced to downgrade its child cancer service after the departure of a paediatric oncologist.

The remaining specialist left in January.

Two permanent specialists from Germany are due to start work in October, but meanwhile children needing intensive treatment must go to Auckland or Christchurch.

Bianca's mother, Lea White, said though the nursing and medical staff at Ward 18 had bent over backwards to do their best for families in trying circumstances, the situation had been worrying.

An offer by her husband's employer to transfer him to Auckland "came at the right time".

"The staff here are wonderful, and the support from the Child Cancer Foundation has been a life-line ... If her case was a bit more straightforward, maybe we could wait till October ... but with everything she's been through we would rather she was under an oncologist on site."

Bianca is at present on a maintenance regime, rather than intensive chemotherapy, but she has suffered numerous complications and cannot mix with other child cancer patients because of a case of suspected shingles.

Mrs White said it was hard leaving Wellington, where the family had lived for three years.

"We would rather stay in Wellington ... but personally I don't feel it's that safe at the moment ...

"We always said we would do whatever it takes to get her through. It is disruptive but we are lucky we have this opportunity."

A Unit Struggling

The number of "reportable events" involving child cancer patients at Wellington Hospital more than doubled in the first half of last year as the unit struggled with a rash of resignations.

Figures issued by Capital and Coast District Health Board record 36 such events - which included administrative delays, staff issues, staffing levels and medication errors or "near misses" - between April and June. In the first three months of the year, there were 14.

None had resulted in serious harm to patients, said the board's clinical director of child health services, Graeme Lear.

Though there were very few child cancer patients, each child required dozens (in some cases hundreds) of procedures, interventions and interactions in the course of their treatment.

"We strongly encourage our staff to report any events or near misses, as this enables us to improve quality standards and adjust our processes to reduce the likelihood of recurrence."

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