Cancer unit saved

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Children with cancer will get treatment closer to home after Wellington Hospital hired two specialists from Germany to boost its ailing service.

Wellington's sick children are also set to get a new hospital after Capital and Coast District Health Board decided to keep a building previously scheduled to face the wrecking ball.

The board plans to move children's services to the larger Grace Neill building once the new hospital building in Newtown opens.

The board announced yesterday it had recruited two paediatric oncologists - Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao - from Germany. The pair are expected to start work in October.

Twenty-one children have been sent to Auckland or Christchurch for tertiary (complex) cancer treatment since the sudden resignation of one of Wellington's cancer doctors last July. Its remaining specialist finished in January.

In a bid to save the service, Capital and Coast signed a memorandum of understanding with Canterbury DHB in December to provide a joint service. That memorandum still stands.

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Clinical director of child health Graeme Lear said it had been a difficult time.

"We acknowledge and regret the difficulties experienced by patients, their families and staff over the past few months, but we plan to bring this service back up to a full tertiary paediatric oncology service as soon as possible."

The board would continue working with other district health boards till the new doctors arrived. Dr Lear said the pair's skills would benefit the entire country.

Health Minister David Cunliffe said he was delighted with the appointments, which came after he made it clear to the board "something had to be done and done quickly".

Chief operating officer Martin Hefford told a board meeting yesterday that one of the doctors would work part-time at Wellington's medical school. The board would continue looking for a third oncologist.

Ronald McDonald House Wellington chief executive Lesley Slieker had met the doctors when they visited the house a few weeks ago and she said they would be a fantastic asset to the city.

"We're really delighted for the families who have been pushed to the limit over the last few months."

Child Cancer Foundation spokesman John Robson said the need to travel to Auckland or Christchurch had placed added pressure on families and stretched the foundation's resources.

The 11-storey Grace Neill block, planned for the children's hospital, currently contains women's health, maternity services and wards - services that will be moved to the new hospital when it is completed at the end of this year.

Original hospital redevelopment plans did not include the building but interim chief executive Derek Milne said keeping it would give a bigger space for the children's hospital.

A connecting tunnel would be built between the new building and the Grace Neill block.

The existing children's hospital would be converted to offices.

The plan will use $10 million the board has remaining in its redevelopment budget on refurbishments.

THE NEW DOCTORS

Christian Kratz studied in Germany and has a particular interest in juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia – a rare cancer that occurs in young children – and paediatric haematology (which deals with disorders of the blood).

Mwe Mwe Chao trained in the United States and has expert knowledge in paediatric haematology-oncology and bone marrow transplants.

THE STORY SO FAR

Wellington has one of only three advanced paediatric oncology units in the country. It serves the entire lower North Island.

July 2007: Child cancer doctor Liz Hesketh resigns and moves to Australia. Some patients are forced to go to Christchurch and Auckland.

October 2007: The remaining oncologist, Anne Mitchell, resigns and finished in January.

The Dominion Post