Sunday, April 5, 2009

Resignations put service in peril

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By SUSAN PEPPERELL - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 09:14 05/04/2009

Pressure is mounting on this country's child cancer services in the wake of the shock resignation of two specialists in the capital.

Doctors at Auckland and Christchurch say they will need extra resources to cope with the increased load they face if Wellington Hospital's child cancer service closes - which seems almost inevitable when the husband and wife team of paediatric oncologists, Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao, leave in August.

The couple, recruited from Germany only last October to reopen the service after their predecessors resigned, are moving to the US.

Ken Whelan, Capital and Coast District Health Board's chief executive, said the service had a chequered history and its future was now in doubt.

It is expected the remaining two tertiary child cancer units in Auckland and Christchurch will take over care of the Wellington region patients, who require highly specialised support services. There have been eight new patients in Wellington in the past six months. Starship sees more than 100 new patients annually, while Christchurch sees about 35.

Dr Lochie Teague, clinical director of paediatric haemotology and oncology at Auckland's Starship, said the last time the Wellington unit closed it caused additional stresses for everyone. "There is not much room for extra demand."

Child oncology also required a complex network of other medical specialties and taking on extra patients was a complicated equation.

"We will continue to offer services as best we can. If a child needs to be here we will always accommodate them," he said.

Dr Michael Sullivan of Christchurch Hospital's child cancer service said he and his colleagues were disappointed that the re- establishment of the Wellington service had failed and "more disappointed that it happened so soon".

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