Saturday, April 4, 2009

Laws blasts child cancer care

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4:00AM Sunday Apr 05, 2009
By Jane Phare
Michael Laws with daughter Lucy, who has leukemia. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Michael Laws with daughter Lucy, who has leukemia. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Talkback host Michael Laws launched an angry and frustrated assault on health authorities last night over the care available for child cancer patients - including his daughter Lucy.

"The inadequacy of New Zealand's child cancer facilities has been pretty much brought home to me," said Laws, who is Wanganui Mayor and a member of the Whanganui District Health Board.

Laws said in the past week Lucy had deteriorated and needed a platelet transfusion. His daughter had no immunity and was at high risk of infection.

A range of options for Lucy's care had been canvassed with doctors but a room in Starship Hospital in Auckland was not considered an option because the hospital was too busy.

It came 18 days after Lucy went into isolation at Wanganui Hospital, and as child cancer services across the country face fresh pressure with the loss of two Wellington-based specialists. The pair - hired from Germany - quit six months after taking the job.

The resignations mean the centres for child cancer treatment might be again cut back to Auckland and Christchurch. It leaves families with long trips to those main centres or greater reliance on provincial hospitals where doctors use "tele-medicine" to communicate with specialists.

The Herald on Sunday has learned of some families with children needing regular care who have moved away from Wellington because of the inconsistent staffing and care.

Labour is calling for new Health Minister Tony Ryall to fix the problem.

Ryall acknowledged that the loss of the paediatric oncologists could be "upsetting" for families. He said a temporary paediatric oncologist had been hired and work was under way to fix the problem.

Laws highlighted the Wellington problem as placing greater pressure on the system, and said he had been told that ill children were unable to get into Starship Hospital's oncology wards.

He praised Wanganui hospital staff for their work. Not only had Lucy received excellent treatment there, but they had kept a room to the side of her room empty to help keep infection at bay, and turned away other child patients with infectious illness.

Dr Lochie Teague, clinical director of paediatric oncology at Starship, denied there was a waiting list for child cancer patients. He said if any child in a regional hospital got sick enough they would be transferred to Starship. "Space will always be made available."

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