Last child cancer doc quits

01:43, Jan 31 2009
DOCTOR-LESS: Sean Ternent has been battling cancer since July. But his doctor, the sole remaining child cancer specialist at Wellington Hospital, has just resigned.

The resignation of the sole remaining child cancer specialist at Wellington Hospital has plunged its service into fresh crisis.

Anne Mitchell, who parents say was under extreme pressure from working alone since her colleague Liz Hesketh left in July, resigned yesterday and will finish at the end of January.

Her resignation comes just three weeks after the hospital's paediatric oncology service - which provides care for child cancer victims throughout the southern half of the North Island - was thrown a lifeline, with Capital and Coast Health deciding it would approach its Canterbury counterpart seeking an alliance to share child cancer services.

Parents of child cancer patients are furious at Capital and Coast, saying officials appear unwilling to commit to providing a crucial health service.

Catherine Ternent, whose son Sean, 7, is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, said she was devastated to learn of Dr Mitchell's resignation. She blamed the DHB for trying to run down a life-saving service.

"It's just unbelievable and inconceivable that Wellington, the capital city, could not help treat child cancer patients. We've been fighting and fighting and we'll just have to continue fighting."

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Mrs Ternent said Dr Mitchell had been Sean's doctor since he became sick last July and had been readmitted to hospital again this month.

"We don't blame Anne, she is absolutely wonderful and has worked unbelievably hard as the only oncologist. She's been carrying a huge workload and pressure for far too long but she has always been there for the children."

Parents who were told their child had cancer already faced an emotional rollercoaster. Their only concern should be caring for their children - but parents had been forced to fight to retain cancer services at the hospital.

"I'm starting to wonder if Capital and Coast are committed to treating child cancer patients. And if we lose this service we'll never get it back."

The board's child health manager, Kaye Hudson, said it was still committed to offering a full paediatric oncology service from Wellington Hospital in the long term.

But in the interim, patients requiring complex tertiary treatment would be sent to Christchurch or Auckland. "We regret the inconvenience to patients and their families but it is the only clinically appropriate thing to do."

The Wellington service has 30 children in its care, and averages 11 new cases a year.

The Dominion Post