Recovering blind Queenstown girl battles southern health board

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They took away her sight – now they could snatch away her place at one of New Zealand’s best-known havens for sick kids and their families. 

Little Natalya Skelton, 7, her solo mum and her brother face being forced to live on the streets in Auckland after Southern District Health Board’s shock decision to stop paying for part of her care at the city’s Ronald McDonald House. 

The former pupil of Queenstown’s St Joseph’s lost sight in her left eye in 2006 after eight weeks of alleged misdiagnoses and “inadequate” medical testing in the resort. 

The family uprooted from Queenstown in January and have been living at Ronald McDonald House while Natalya receives ongoing treatment following major eye surgery to restore her sight. 

SDHB pays $140 a week towards the cost of a unit – Ronald McDonald House covers the rest – and has also paid for medical treatment alongside Auckland District Health Board. 

But last Friday, mum Kirsten Anderson found out via Natalya’s surgeon that SDHB’s accommodation contributions would stop – instead, she could move back to Queenstown and have access to a locum eye surgeon in Invercargill. 

“They say her essential medical care is now completed, which is completely incorrect because we still have to go to clinics and Natalya’s still got to have surgery to remove her stitches in October,” Anderson says. 

Her local GP Fiona McPherson appealed to SDHB about the sudden change and as a result, Anderson says, the family’s been given a further two weeks to find a new place to live. 

“How can I rapidly sort out my situation in Queenstown having not worked at all this year? I’ve got no money. What am I supposed to do? 

“Effectively we’ll be on the streets, unless I can find somewhere else to live in the next few weeks.”
She wants to stay in Auckland for another three months till after Natalya’s surgery. 

Anderson refuses to return to Queenstown because of what she calls the “inadequate” local hospital care on offer, and with Invercargill Hospital two hours’ drive away. 

“I don’t want to come back and be a victim of SDHB’s inability to look after Natalya appropriately.” 

Natalya’s surgeon, professor Charles McGhee, told Anderson “I’d be able to get more than adequate support for Natalya through [Auckland DHB]”, she says. 

Mountain Scene has sighted an email from McGhee to Anderson offering to treat Natalya free of charge at his private clinic – “in the worst case scenario”. 

Unable to work all year because she helps with her daughter’s daily therapy, Anderson used her entire personal savings to pay for therapy resources, plus feeding and supporting Natalya and son Kiran, 11. 

“I came up here with close to $10,000 – and it’s all gone.” 

She plans to move her family to Christchurch in November so Natalya can attend New Zealand’s only Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ school and be around eye specialists. 

“It’s what you do for your children when you know you’ve got to get an outcome.” 

SDHB’s chief medical officer Murray Fosbender says the decision to cease paying for accommodation was based on patient notes that indicated Natalya could become an outpatient after six months. 

Fosbender says it’s “regretted” the DHB didn’t approach Anderson first. 

He admits he’s concerned the family has nowhere to go with no money. 

“It looks like she needs help,” Fosbender says. 

“If she’s got no money then we’ll have to look at that. We can’t toss anyone out so I’ll have to look at other ways of managing that.” 

Keeping the family at Ronald McDonald House “could be one of the options”, Fosbender says. 

“All I want to see is any issues ironed out.”

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