3 Apr 2009

Wellington DHB loses child cancer specialists

6:06 pm on 3 April 2009

Parents of children receiving intensive cancer care at Wellington Hospital are concerned over uncertainty surrounding the on-again, off-again service.

Capital and Coast District Health Board says two paediatric oncologists which it employed five months ago have resigned, and it is not clear what that will mean for the service in Wellington in the long term.

The DHB says paediatric oncology services are increasingly complex, and this is difficult for the relatively small number of patients requiring treatment in the Wellington region.

It says these pressures have resulted in the resignations of the two specialists, who are married. They plan to leave New Zealand in August.

Their departure leaves a question mark over the long-term future of what has been a tertiary service for 500,000 people in the region.

At present, 37 children are undergoing intensive cancer treatment. They and their families may have to go to Auckland or Christchurch after August.

The DHB says it will be business as usual until then, but Wellington has had an on-again, off-again service and decisions must be made nationally on how to achieve long-term sustainability.

Heads should roll - father

The parents of a child cancer patient at Wellington Hospital say it is adding extra stress at a difficult time and the DHB and the Government must sort it out.

John Thomson's son Riley, aged 5, has leukaemia and has two-and-a-half years of cancer treatment to go.

Mr Thomson is angry, saying the DHB has lost five oncologists in the past 18 months, and the family has had to travel elsewhere because of problems with the Wellington service.

"Heads should roll and there should be a serious audit or investigation done to find out what's going on. There should be a commitment by the DHB and the Government to get on and sort out children's oncology throughout New Zealand."

The DHB says paediatric oncology requires specialised support services. It acknowledges the service has been on-again off-again in Wellington because of earlier resignations and staff recruitment and retention problems.

DHB chief executive Ken Whelan says a decision will have to be made over the next two months by the Ministry of Health and others what will happen nationally after August.

However, the DHB says it is doing everything it can to ensure continued access to child cancer services and will try to minimise disruption while an international recruitment drive takes place.

A paediatric oncologist already been employed will begin in May, initially as a locum.

Mr Whelan says it is possible Wellington could lose its top-level service and revert to offering secondary level child cancer services only.