Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Warning on prospects to replace oncologists

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By REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post
Last updated 08:52 08/04/2009

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The head of a national advisory group doubts Wellington Hospital will be able to find replacement paediatric oncologists to keep its tertiary child cancer service running.

Paediatric oncology steering group chairman Scott McFarlane, of Auckland's Starship hospital, said if a candidate talked to other child cancer specialists, or researched the unit's history, they were unlikely to see it as a stable, long-term prospect.

"I don't know of any informed paediatric oncologists who would now take that job."

Wellington Hospital's two paediatric oncologists - husband and wife Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao - resigned last month, less than six months after arriving from Germany. They leave in August.

Their resignations followed the departures of previous child cancer specialists Liz Hesketh in 2007 and Anne Mitchell in 2008.

Before Drs Chao and Kratz arrived, the sickest child cancer patients had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for tertiary (complex and intensive) treatment.

Capital and Coast District Health Board said last week that the service's "on-again, off-again" history was not sustainable and it was looking for a long- term national solution.

Dr McFarlane said Wellington's tertiary services had been under threat for more than a decade.

The steering group, which would give advice to the Health Ministry about a long-term solution for Wellington, told Capital and Coast a year ago that the unit could not sustain any further crises, he said.

The situation was not Capital and Coast's fault. Increased specialisation among doctors internationally, combined with New Zealand's low population, meant specialist services became centralised in certain areas.

Tertiary child cancer units in Dunedin and Waikato hospitals had already closed.

The end of tertiary services at Wellington was "not a done deal but there seems to be an inevitability about it", he said.

Capital and Coast chief medical officer Geoffrey Robinson said the health board was using international agencies to find applicants to replace Drs Chao and Kratz.