18 May 2024

Breast cancer patient left 'humiliated' over Ballantynes bra subsidy treatment

8:48 am on 18 May 2024
Ballantynes Christchurch

Joanna Hockham says she was badly treated both times she went to Ballantynes to access a subsidy for bras. Photo: supplied

A Christchurch woman was left feeling "humiliated" after trying to access a subsidy for breast cancer patients at department store Ballantynes.

Patients can be given financial assistance from the Ministry of Health for breast prostheses and bras.

Joanna Hockham went in to Ballantynes in central Christchurch in November 2022 to make use of the subsidy.

She had filled out the information required in an official form but was told by the store assistant that she needed to supply her medical records.

She returned to the store with her records which the assistant read at the counter, and then told her it was still not enough information, she said.

Hockham left the shop upset, then rang the store from her car to speak to a manager.

She said the manager apologised and said they would come back to her, but never did.

"It was absolutely humiliating, and really upsetting. The lady was obviously untrained in the procedures.

"But then to be really upset in the car, and not have a manager call me back, that was really upsetting too."

She rang Ballantynes later, and again was offered apologies, she said. The order for the bra was put through and it was sent to her.

In November 2023, Hockham returned to Ballantynes to again make use of the subsidy.

This time the ordering was straightforward, but the delivery was not. She ordered four bras in November 2023, and in February one was delivered to her home.

In March, she got a phone call on a Saturday morning to say the other three were ready to picked up. But when she arrived in at Ballantynes she was told there was no record of her subsidy paperwork and she would need to pay for them, she said.

"I mean the first time in 2022 is one thing to be humiliated, but then again in 2024."

She said she did not believe that Ballantynes should continue to be a provider of the bra subsidy.

Ballantynes' chief executive Maria O'Halloran said in a statement that the store was very sorry to hear of Hockham's experience. The store had investigated the incidents and received an account from its team.

"We acknowledge that what the customer has outlined would be unsatisfactory and not up to the expected and usual Ballantynes standard of customer service. We have contacted the customer to give her the opportunity to discuss this with us."

O'Halloran said her expectations were that all Ballantynes customers were treated with discretion, empathy and efficiency when being provided the breast cancer service.

She said it had not had any other complaints about the handling of such requests, and that in her 10 years as chief executive this was the first time the store had received feedback of this nature.

"We are proud of our team of experts who fit over 350 prostheses each year and have built some special relationships with customers.

"In my 10 years as CEO, we have consistently received wonderful feedback about this service and the work that our team does in providing it. We will proudly remain a provider whilst ensuring we take this feedback and look for ways to improve."

O'Halloran said fittings were available seven days a week, but the subsidised prosthesis fitting required verification with the Ministry of Health.

Those approvals could only be gained during office hours from Monday to Friday, so fittings were encouraged during those times, she said.

A Health NZ spokesperson said they encouraged anyone who had issues with their provider to get in touch with Health NZ directly.

They said Health NZ had received very few complaints about suppliers, and when those had occurred it had worked directly with the provider to resolve the issue.

"In our experience, suppliers of these products work hard to ensure their clients are well supported at what can be a difficult time.

"It is our expectation that people accessing these services are treated with dignity and respect, and that the client is satisfied with both the service and the final product. "

Health NZ said it regularly reviewed its policy and guidelines to ensure they were user friendly, clear and simple so people could understand their entitlements, and suppliers were able to assist with their requirements.

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