Don’t let cancer patients go through my travel hell

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Brave Queenstown mum Nicki Smith doesn’t want future local cancer patients to endure the same travel torment she did to get treatment. 

Seriously-ill Wakatipu patients are being forced to travel twice as far as they need to for life-saving chemotherapy, as revealed by Mountain Scene two weeks ago. 

They make harrowing 400km return trips to Invercargill when they could be treated at Clyde’s Dunstan Hospital, 90km away. 

Smith, boss of resort community drop-in centre Happiness House, attended regular appointments in Invercargill for six months following an operation for breast cancer in May last year. 

“I asked to be seen at Dunstan because it’s a lot closer but was told it wasn’t possible due to funding rules. The whole situation is ridiculous. For the last three months of treatment I was up and down to Invercargill once a week during the winter months which was pretty horrible. 

“Among other things, it meant I had to organise a driver for the whole day and also get someone to look after my youngest daughter after school,” Smith says. 

She adds: “I’m one of the lucky ones as I have a lot of great support from family and friends but if cancer patients can go to Dunstan in the future it would be 10 times better for them.” 

Almost a year after discovering a lump in a breast, Smith, 42, says her prognosis for recovery is good. 

Southern District Health Board says the “inequity of access” is because trust-owned Dunstan Hospital only delivers chemo to patients within its Central Otago boundary. 

Last week SDHB finance boss Robert Mackway Jones said he expected a recommendations paper on the situation within weeks.