Trips not needed; it's all right here

Dunedin woman Debbie Green. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
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 available treatments.

''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.
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 years.

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 Southern DHB.''

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 either.

''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 not life-threatening.''

Dupuytren's contracture
• Affects hands and fingers, causing one or more fingers to bend into the palm.
• Involves one or both hands, sometimes includes thumbs.
• 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 Vikings.
• More common in men, usually occurring later in life.

Source: National Health Service website


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