Mum flags health alert

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The mother of a Queenstown girl blinded after “shameful” local medical treatment warns other kids are at risk if parents don’t push hard for better services. 

Kirsten Anderson reveals her seven-year-old daughter Natalya Skelton’s harrowing ordeal amid Southland District Health Board’s proposed shake-up at Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital. 

“Natalya’s a good example of when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong,” she tells Mountain Scene. 

The solo mum says her daughter lost the use of her left eye in 2006 after eight weeks of alleged misdiagnoses and “inadequate” medical testing in the resort. 

The brave youngster made national headlines recently following a ground-breaking operation in Auckland to restore her sight. 

But none of the drama would have happened if Queenstown had better access to appropriate health specialists, Anderson claims. 

“I think the catalyst for what Natalya has gone through came from the inadequate medical facilities and diagnostics that are available here in this area,” she says. 

“I think it’s shameful. There are families here in Queenstown who are in at-risk situations and at the butt-end of the health inadequacies … they need to be thinking carefully about their children’s health and wellbeing with the facilities that are diminishing in this area.” 

In late 2006, the distraught mum went “back-and-forth” to local GPs and LDH when Natalya’s left eye became infected after catching chicken pox – “but they couldn’t do anything because there were no specialists around”. 

No swabs or tests were done – and a Dutch locum specialist sent up from Invercargill’s Southland Hospital even “refused” to diagnose Natalya, Anderson claims. 

“He considered she was too difficult to treat because there were inadequate diagnostic facilities for him at [LDH]. So he said ‘it’s conjunctivitis’ and left it.” 

Two weeks later, Natalya’s eye suddenly went black and red and began swelling uncontrollably. 

Anderson’s GP told her to rush straight to Southland Hospital where a specialist gave her a “huge dose of steroids” to bring the swelling down. 

“They told us her eye would have exploded if we’d have got there 20 minutes later.” 

Tests proved the infection had graduated from follicular conjunctivitis to a virus that causes shingles. But it was too late – she’d lost the surface of her cornea, or front part of her eye. 

For three years Anderson approached overseas surgeons and scoured the internet to find someone to cure Natalya, an ex-St Joseph’s School pupil. 

She eventually located Auckland District Health Board eye surgeon, Professor Charles McGhee, who agreed to perform the “risky” surgery. 

Last November, McGhee found a cornea and eye tissue that matched Natalya’s from a donor who had died.
The operation – a world first on someone so young – was a success. 

Five months on, Natalya now has 30 per cent vision – equivalent to that of an 18-month-old baby. 

She’s constantly surprising doctors with her rapid improvement and is expected to regain 80 per cent sight, Anderson says. 

She’s still got 13 stitches in her eye which will eventually be removed. 

Anderson, Natalya and her brother Kiran, 11, leave Queenstown tomorrow after visiting family. They are presently staying at Auckland’s Ronald McDonald House for sick kids but hope to return to Queenstown over time. 

Anderson believes SDHB and its Otago counterpart should make a range of medical specialists available to visit the resort every week. 

“People in Queenstown need to respond to the current health changes with a measure of concern because I believe families are at risk now.” 

Submissions to SDHB’s proposal close next Friday.

More questions than answers
You like what’s proposed for Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital – but are suspicious of a lack of detail in Otago-Southland District Health Board’s consultation paper.
That’s the chorus from 300-400 locals at the Wakatipu Health Trust’s “hospital hui” early this month. Below are questions asked of focus groups at the meeting and a summary of the anonymous answers.

Are you broadly supportive of changes proposed by the DHB?
GPs cop it here. You say: “Are local GPs sufficiently skilled?…How can we ensure there’s no monopoly of GP services or providers?” As always, cost is a concern – you ask: “Who’ll pay for the hospital expansion?” And you’re a suspicious lot: “We’ll be paying for emergency care – currently provided free – cloaked in attractive detail of upgraded hospital and expanded outpatient clinics.”

Should our hospital be controlled by a local board of governance?
Overall response: “Yes – absolutely.” Then came the buts: “Will board members be elected/appointed by local residents?…Will the community-governed board be a profit-driven business?…What guarantee that the local board would be answerable to the community?”

Should the hospital be redeveloped and retained on its existing site?
Generally agreed – but with reservations: “Who’d pay for the redevelopment?…And own the new building?”

Should hospital land return to community ownership so a local board might develop new health services and income streams there?
Yes, was the overall reaction – but much more detail is required from the DHB, like: “Would our DHB funding be reduced?…What impact would private income streams have on public services?…Why can’t private development be done separately?”

– compiled by Frank Marvin
What’s going on?
  • Cash-strapped Otago-Southland District Health Board wants to wash its hands of Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital
  • A sketchy consultation document talks of transferring LDH to a local “board of governance” – possibly Wakatipu Health Trust – which would in turn contract the running of LDH to an “operator”
  •  LDH’s emergency department would be staffed by GPs and part-privatised – patients not requiring admission to hospital would pay GP fees
  • After revelations of Queenstown Medical Centre bosses meeting LDH staff, there are fears QMC has the inside running with the DHB to become the hospital operator
  • Public submissions close on April 23.