For little Dahlia, normal is nice

For six-year-old Dahlia Watters and her family life now resembles something "very close to normal", revolving around a busy schedule of school, ballet, piano and tennis lessons.

It is a normalcy her mother Maria Papas craved 12 months ago, when Dahlia was spending three or four days a week in Princess Margaret Hospital's cancer ward being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Dahlia is now in remission and visits PMH only once a month for maintenance treatment.

Ms Papas said her daughter was "looking and feeling and being just like any other six-year-old".

"She goes to school, has friends, has kept up in her learning and has developed interests in piano, ballet and tennis," she said. "She is strong, resilient and lovely.

"She has less than a year of this to go before she finishes her treatment schedule altogether."

During that emotional, exhausting period last year, Ms Papas spoke to _The West Australian _about the trying conditions facing patients and staff at PMH as doctors and health officials held a crisis meeting.

While Dahlia now only visits PMH as an outpatient, her mother worries for those children still in ward 3B.

"I think a lot of good work was done to make the hospital an easier place to be, in terms of streamlining services," she said.

"But it never changed the fact that there are more oncology patients than there is space.

"I worry about what pressures the ward might be under if in addition to the normal treatments and need for inpatient stays, there is a spate of colds or flus or other infections."

In the 12 months since conditions at the cancer ward were labelled "Third World" by Telethon Adventurers founder Rick Parish, Health Minister Kim Hames said significant improvements had been made.

He said most of the 24 new full-time positions in key clinical areas across the hospital had been filled or were in the recruitment process, as part of $3.7 million annual funding announced last year.

"In regard to cancer specialists, an additional 0.7 full-time equivalent oncologist was appointed in July 2013," he said.

"Two radiation oncologists have been recruited to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital to provide care to adult and paediatric patients, and I'm advised paediatric demand is being met."

But Mr Parish said he believed the 24-bed ward was still overcrowded and the 26-bed ward planned for the new Perth children's hospital would not be enough to cater for demand.

The West Australian

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