Dunedin woman Debbie Green. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Dunedin woman Debbie Green was stunned to find she had
travelled to Hamilton for a publicly-funded treatment that was
available on her own doorstep.
Ms Green (54) paid the travel and accommodation costs, and
she feared others might not be able to afford to do the same.
Her GP initially told her there was no treatment for a
debilitating hand condition called Dupuytren's contracture.
He said she had to wait until the fingers on the affected
hand were twisted permanently at a 45-degree angle, and then
she would probably receive surgery.
Not satisfied, she searched online, and discovered the
Waikato District Health Board performed low-level radiation
treatment for the condition.
It is not a cure - but a few X-ray sessions knocked the
progression of the tissue tightening hand disease back by a
decade or more and restored the use of her left hand.
Previously, simple tasks such as driving and preparing food
were painful - and it was only going to get worse.
The treatment itself was free, but she paid about $2500 for
accommodation and airfares for three trips to Hamilton in
January, February, and April.
She contacted the Otago Daily Times wanting to alert
others to the existence of the treatment.
Ms Green was astounded after ODT inquiries revealed
the treatment had been carried out at Dunedin Hospital for
more than a decade.
''I am absolutely amazed. My hand is so important to me.''
She questioned whether GPs were kept up to date about
''I'm just blown away by that.''
She did not regret spending the money, but feared other
patients either did not know about the treatment, or even if
informed, might not be able to pay travel costs.
''There is absolutely no information out there to say Dunedin
[Hospital] does it.''
An affected hand.
Southern District Health Board radiation oncology
clinical leader Dr Shaun Costello, through a spokeswoman, said
the service had been offered in the South for more than 10
He said he thought GPs in the area were aware of the range of
radiation treatments available locally.
''Patients do not need to spend thousands of dollars to
travel to another centre for treatment which is available at
the Southern DHB. If treatment is unavailable, then there is
a process to refer them to another DHB at the cost of the
Medical directorate general manager Sharon Mason said three
Dupuytren's patients were undergoing the radiation treatment
at Dunedin Hospital at the time of the ODT's inquiry.
Aurora Health Centre GP Dr Jill McIlraith, who is not Ms
Green's doctor, said she was unaware of the treatment.
''I asked three other colleagues if they were aware radiation
oncologists could treat Dupuytren's, and they didn't know
''Maybe it is time to ask the radiation oncologists for an
update for GPs - but they may feel that they are already near
capacity treating cancer patients without being potentially
swamped with benign conditions which are a jolly nuisance but
• Affects hands and fingers, causing one or more fingers to
bend into the palm.
• Involves one or both hands, sometimes includes
• Connective tissue in the palm thickens.
• It is not life-threatening.
• Cause unknown, but thought to be genetic.
• Associated gene thought to have come from the
• More common in men, usually occurring later in life.
Source: National Health Service website