Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Funding shortfall forces charities to take on children's health care

Dr Lance O'Sullivan swabs 7-year-old Raukura McNab's throat.  Photo / Natalie Slade
Dr Lance O'Sullivan swabs 7-year-old Raukura McNab's throat. Photo / Natalie Slade

Charities have started providing bandages and dressings for children with skin infections in poor parts of Northland and South Auckland because government funding is not enough to meet the need.

Food charity KidsCan is co-funding a health service for 14 schools in the Kaitaia area and wants to start a similar service in Christchurch, where schools report a rise in poverty-related illnesses in children since the earthquake two years ago.

In South Auckland, the Middlemore Foundation is helping to fund a new service starting next term in 53 schools in Mangere, Otara and Manurewa, and is trying to raise money to extend the service to nine schools in Papakura where children are also at high risk of contracting rheumatic fever.

The programmes are building on a four-year, $24 million Health Ministry-funded throat-swabbing programme to reduce rheumatic fever.

Support from the charities has enabled the programme providers to treat skin infections as well as sore throats, and to pay for medicines where families can't afford the new $5 prescription charge that took effect from January 1.

Kaitaia programme manager Lisa McNab said her team of five health workers could not ethically take throat swabs from children and ignore other health needs.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan, the Kaitaia doctor who oversees the programme, said it was also unethical to prescribe medicines for patients without making sure they could afford to buy them.

KidsCan in Northland, and the Middlemore Foundation in South Auckland, fund nit combs for children with head lice and small packs for children with skin infections that include band-aids, dressings and hand sanitiser.

Both also operate prescription funds to pay for medicines and KidsCan has fitted out a disused dental clinic at Kaitaia Primary School as a base for Mrs McNab's team.

Counties Manukau District Health Board portfolio manager Sue Miller said her board had decided to integrate its 35 existing public health nurses into the new school-based teams totalling 150 fulltime-equivalent nurses and health workers.

She said the ministry funding for sore throat swabs provided about half of the $6 million a year that would be needed to serve all of the district's 61 schools at highest risk of rheumatic fever, and the diversion of public health nurse funding and support from the Middlemore Foundation would enable the service to start in 53 schools next term. But this was not yet enough to serve the remaining eight at-risk schools in Papakura.

"We are looking at options for Papakura," she said. "The Middlemore Foundation is quite keen to support us with that."

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said her next priority for school-based health services was Christchurch. The charity is sending 500 nit treatment packs to its partner schools in East Christchurch this week.

- NZ Herald

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