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".

Lucy needs isolation room

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Sunday Star Times
Last updated 09:14 05/04/2009

GARY RODGERS/Sunday Star-Times
STAYING PUT: Lucy Laws and her father, Michael, at their home in Wanganui.

Four-year-old Lucy Laws' condition has worsened. The daughter of Wanganui mayor Michael Laws has now been in isolation in Wanganui Hospital for more than two weeks, battling a virus.

Lucy, who was diagnosed with leukaemia a year ago, has no immunity and specialists have recommended she be transferred to Auckland's Starship hospital. However, Laws said he had been told Starship was so full that Lucy would be placed in a general ward in Auckland City Hospital, where she would be no better off than in Wanganui.

Lucy is running fevers every six hours. Her father said yesterday she had undergone platelet transfusions and faces further transfusions if her condition does not improve. Her chemotherapy, which involved three doses daily, has stopped to let her rebuild some immunity.

Her mother, Laws' partner Leonie Brookhammer, and six- month-old brother Theo are in her hospital room with her, but other family members can only view her only through a window.

On Friday Lucy's parents were told by a specialist paediatrician that her immunity had declined further and it was now urgent she be transferred to Starship where she can undergo more tests and stay in a pressurised isolation room.

However, none was available.

Laws said Starship specialists were talking to Lucy's doctors two or three times a day, which gave them a "certain confidence".

"The irony is that 20 years ago she would have died, but these days she, and children like her, have a shot at survival that is being compromised by a lack of facilities and shortage of beds, because there is no nationwide structure on the need for isolation rooms for kids."

Laws is on leave from the mayoralty, but said he planned to return to work tomorrow.

"It is very difficult, but like all families who have kids with cancer, you find ways of coping."