Wakatipu cancer sufferers are celebrating news that their long and winding road for life-saving treatment has been halved.
Desperately-ill local patients have been enduring 400km round trips to Invercargill for regular chemotherapy sessions that were available just 90km away in Clyde.
The scandal was first exposed by Mountain Scene in March.
Southern District Health Board boss Brian Rousseau – who admitted the situation was “completely unacceptable” at a public meeting in Queenstown last month – says Wakatipu patients can now access Clyde’s Dunstan Hospital from May 19.
“I’m stoked – finally, some common sense strikes,” local cancer patient Glenn “Scooter” Reid says.
Reid’s parents have driven him on harrowing, five-hour return trips to Invercargill for chemo treatment three times a month since January.
“It’s a whole day out. I suffer on the way home,” he says.
“Clyde is going to make my life a whole lot better – the difference between an hour in the car and two and a half hours is a lot.”
Mountain Scene coverage of the situation “definitely” helped, Reid adds.
Graham Williams, whose wife Alison Naylor has just finished monthly treatment in Dunedin, is relieved the travel troubles have finally been ironed out.
“All the people involved in this decision knew about my complaint letter to Health Minister Tony Ryall last November,” Williams says.
“They weren’t going to do anything but the moment the light shines in, it is quite amazing how quickly things get going.”
Williams and local Cancer Society support service coordinator Marie Wales applaud cancer sufferers like Reid and Claire Wilson for speaking out in Mountain Scene.
Wales: “I am surprised SDHB came to the [solution] as quickly as they did but I think we have to thank the people who put their stories out, sharing a very personal and emotional part of their lives within the wider community.
“We’re ecstatic because the people of the Wakatipu Basin weren’t being unreasonable in their request to have equal access to services within their community.
“Especially as Dunstan is in the Central Otago Lakes District community, so it’s been crazy that clients couldn’t access that.”
Accessing chemo in Clyde will lessen stress for patients and their families, including mothers who have to organise kids’ school pick-ups, Wales says.
A one-hour drive after chemo is “tolerable”, compared to two-and-a-half-hours from Invercargill, ending with the windy Devil’s Staircase, she adds.
Local Cancer Society volunteers would also be more willing to transport patients to Clyde and back, Wales says,
However, she emphasises only half the battle has been won.
With 23 new Wakatipu cancer patients diagnosed in 2009/10, Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital should be offering chemo treatment, Wales says.
“Look at Dunstan Hospital – it’s very small.
“Why aren’t we able to deliver those services here?”
Reid says chemo treatment at LDH would be 10 times better again than Clyde.