Natural health practitioner failed cancer patient

Last updated 13:20 03/09/2012
Yvonne Maine
60 Minutes
YVONNE MAINE: Was treated for 18 months before discovering she had cancer.

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A natural health practitioner who treated a woman with a lesion on her head for 18 months, even though recognising the lesion "looked cancerous", faces Human Rights Review Tribunal action.

By the time Yvonne Maine sought hospital treatment, the lesion was 10 x 11cm and some underlying bones were damaged, the Health & Disability Commissioner (HDC) said.

Maine was diagnosed with cancer and underwent major surgery but died a year later.

The HDC report into the case, published today, does not name any of those involved but the case has been reported on in the media.

Maine consulted Te Horo iridologist and natural health practitioner Ruth Nelson about the lesion in February 2008. At the time Maine thought the lesion was a cyst.

Iridology is the diagnosis of a patient's health by looking at their irises.

Nelson had recognised from the beginning that the lesion "looked cancerous" and that it was beyond her ability to treat, the HDC said.

Despite that, Nelson treated the lesion for 18 months.

To do so, Nelson spent many hours each day at Maine's house, and the two went on holiday together.

Treatment of the lesion included picking out dead skin, cleaning the lesion, and the use of topical and oral remedies.

Although initially the lesion appeared to improve, it later grew larger, was frequently infected, bled frequently, and smelled unpleasant. Maine became weak and was in severe pain, the report said.

Nelson did not retain any records of the care she provided and no other health practitioner treated the woman's lesion during that time.

Despite being aware that the lesion was likely to be cancerous, Nelson did not inform Maine of her opinions about the severity of the condition or that the lesion was worsening during the course of the treatment, the HDC said.

Nelson knew that she had exceeded the limits of her expertise and that Maine needed advice from another practitioner, but she did not appropriately communicate that or discontinue her treatment, and she gave Maine information which accentuated the woman's fear of conventional treatment.

Nelson also acted unethically by crossing professional boundaries in her close relationship with the woman.

In her decision today, deputy health and disability commissioner Tania Thomas said Nelson had said she never actively discouraged Maine from seeking other treatment, but rather followed Maine's desires. She recalled Maine begging her to continue treating the lesion.

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Nelson had told HDC that she believed the lesion was cancerous from the first time she saw it, but understood the lesion had previously been removed by a doctor.

Deputy commissioner Thomas said that in her view the evidence suggested that although Nelson did not prevent Maine from seeking other help, she persuaded her not to do so, and added to Maine's fear of what might happen if she did.

Nelson was found to have breached rights under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.

She was referred to the director of proceedings who issued a Human Rights Review Tribunal proceeding.

- Stuff

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