Christchurch's cancer treatment accommodation at capacity
Charity providers are seeking to expand their accommodation offerings as they are forced to turn families away, or house them in motels, during their hour of need.
Accommodation for cancer patients' families is being stretched by growing demand for treatment at Christchurch Hospital, including patients from Nelson, Marlborough, the West Coast and South Canterbury.
The Bone Marrow Cancer Trust (BMCT) needs to raise more than $10 million for a new building on the corner of Waller Tce and Selwyn St, about 500 metres from Christchurch Hospital.
Its current accommodation, Ranui House, is available for families from outside of Christchurch whose relatives are receiving treatment at Christchurch Hospital. Out-of-town patients using outpatient services can also stay in the facility.
Ranui House has 16 two-bedroom apartments and 10 one-bedroom apartments available. The planned building would add 42 self-contained apartments.
BMCT had already raised $2.5m of the $12.7m needed for the building's construction, chief executive Allison Nicol said.
The trust turned away 28 people seeking accommodation in June alone – over 100 nights worth of accommodation altogether. From April 2016 to March 2017, 110 people requesting 517 nights accommodation were turned away.
On Friday afternoon, Ranui House received accommodation requests from another three people it did not have capacity for.
"The need for accommodation can only increase, it's not going to decrease," Nicol said.
Cancer Society chief executive Elizabeth Chesterman said waitlists for Christchurch's Daffodil House and Daffodil Lodge were "probably about the same".
"I describe them as a motelier's dream because they are full all the time . . . we put them [families] in motels because we can't always meet demand."
The Ministry of Health funded families' accommodation at $100 per night but the eligibility criteria were "quite strict and complicated", depending upon the number of treatment sessions and distance the family lived from the treatment centre, she said.
Government entitlements did not completely cover costs and there was "no rhyme or reason" to fluctuations in demand throughout the year. Chesterman said the society was looking at its resources to see whether it could expand its facilities.
"It's incredibly circumstantial . . . The fact is more and more people are receiving cancer treatment and if they're outside Christchurch they have to come to Christchurch for that treatment."
Ronald McDonald House South Island chief executive Mandy Kennedy said the service temporarily housed families in outside accommodation "in the rare event that we are full".
Christchurch Hospital clinical director of hematology Dr Mark Smith said improved treatments and an aging population meant the the number of hematology patients was growing.
Family support and accommodation like Ranui House made the often stressful treatment easier.
"When patients are ill, coming in for important treatments, inevitably they're concerned, they're anxious, they're scared and it makes such a big impact to have family there."
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) acting general manager of planning and funding Greg Hamilton said the accommodation shortage was concerning and could worsen in future.
There was little the CDHB could do because it was not usually funded to look after families, he said.
"Our job is really to support the great work that Ranui is doing, and other similar groups. We try and do that where we can, but in the current context, we do as much as we can really.
"It's not straightforward, because some of our treatments are getting shorter and can be conducted in less time. But on the other hand, particularly as we age, diseases like cancer we're going to have more of."
Hamilton said it was not viable to establish treatment services in smaller centres, in terms of resources, equipment, facilities, and the number of patients who would come through.
"Our job's really to make sure people get the best care as quickly as possible, where we can we deliver that as close to home as possible."
South Canterbury woman Heather Divan, who stayed at Ranui House for five weeks during her treatment for multiple myeloma, a blood plasma cancer, described the facility as akin to a "five-star hotel".
Now in remission and back at her home at Levels, near Timaru, she welcomed BCMT's plans for a new building.
"It's full all the time. When I was there, they had to turn people away from the facility."