Amputees caught out as centre forced to close

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2013
Kate Horan
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairrfax NZ
DISADVANTAGED: Kate Horan, one of 200 amputees in the Wellington area who can still get minor repairs to her limbs in Wellington, but not new prosthetics.

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Amputees can no longer get prosthetic limbs made in Wellington, after staff were sent home on full pay while decisions are made about their earthquake-prone workplace.

The limb centre in Mein St, Newtown, was closed on Thursday after a draft engineer's report assessed parts of the building as meeting just 14 per cent of the new building standards.

Capital & Coast District Health Board owns the land and co-owns the building with the Ministry of Social Development. It was constructed in 1979-80.

Greater Wellington Region Amputee Society secretary Allan Blithe said the closure could have a "catastrophic" affect on people who already struggled with mobility.

"It's not like making a tyre - they've got to go in for multiple fittings and, even when it's built, it often needs to have some fine-tuning. If you take it out of the Wellington area it's probably quite disastrous."

It isn't known how long the centre will remain closed. In the meantime, patients will be seen at temporary premises at the Orthotic Centre in Thorndon.

Minor repairs to prosthetics can be done locally, but the manufacturing of new limbs will need to be done at one of the other four centres, the closest of which is in Hamilton.

"If you've got some amputee that's going to have a limb sent away to be worked on and they're stuck in a wheelchair for a week, they're not going to be happy about that," said Mr Blithe, whose partner, Kate Horan, is one of more than 200 amputees in the greater Wellington area.

The New Zealand Artificial Limb Service Board made the decision to abandon the Mein St premises because of health and safety concerns.

Chairman George Reedy said it was "erring on the side of caution" until it had clarity around the future of the building. He did not believe amputees would be affected in the long or short term. "If it's just parts that need to be installed in the artificial limb, that's not really an issue, but if it's something more fundamental it may need to go to out of town."

Eleven permanent staff work at the centre, where artificial limbs are moulded, fitted and repaired, New Zealand Artificial Limb Service chief executive Mervyn Monk said.

Staff continued to see patients on Thursday morning after the announcement, but the remainder of the day's appointments were rescheduled. People with deferred appointments would be seen this week at the temporary premises.

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Mr Monk was meeting Capital & Coast and the Ministry of Social Development later this week to get some "clarity around what this report is telling us".

"This is not a staff issue . . . While they're not at work they're on full pay and all those sorts of things, so no one is being disadvantaged from an employment perspective, but certainly from an amputee perspective we want to minimise disruptions."

Capital & Coast executive director clinical and corporate support Kelvin Watson said the low rating of the building was primarily due to the wall of the ground floor space at the northern end of the building being partly below the exterior ground level.

"The walls can be easily retro-fitted and strengthened to bring the building up to the code's compliance."

- The Dominion Post

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