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Taskforce to tackle long hospital surgery lists

HELEN HOLT
helen.holt@age.co.nz

Wairarapa District Health Board [DHB] has welcomed a new health taskforce to reduce hospital waiting times, but the surgeons’ union says it won’t make a difference until historical issues are addressed.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced a taskforce initiative to tackle nationwide hospital waiting lists caused by the covid-19 pandemic. He said the taskforce hoped to deliver a plan in September.

Wairarapa DHB chief executive Dale Oliff said the board welcomed the taskforce initiative. However, the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association said the national review would change little.

President John McKie said the union supported the work of the proposed taskforce but believed it wouldn’t solve the problems with elective surgery until it focused on acute issues.

“We can’t blame covid for the ballooning waiting lists, whilst it has made the situation worse, problems have existed for many years before this pandemic.

“Public hospital elective surgery is regularly cancelled due to high levels of acute cases which must be seen urgently.”

He said resources allocated to elective care were being diverted to unplanned acute care.

“We must first focus on managing the acute load, and until we do this, elective surgeries will continue to be deferred.”

He said the number of people waiting for elective surgery was much worse than the numbers made public by the government.

“The unmet need in our population is huge. Just looking at waiting lists won’t tell you the whole story.

“We want to participate in the discussions and be part of the solution.

“Orthopaedic departments around New Zealand are all under pressure and lack the capacity to undertake more electives.”

He said the suggestion of moving patients to other centres “simply isn’t practical”.

McKie said the hospital resources had failed to grow with the population and people deserved an honest conversation about the issues.

In Wairarapa, patients have waited up to six months for surgeries.

Four patients waited more than four months in general surgery.

In the gynaecology department, 16 patients waited longer than four months, with the longest wait time of almost 190 days.

One person waited 140 days for urology surgery, and 15 patients waited longer than four months in orthopaedics.

Oliff said the hospital was working with partner DHBs and the wider health system to reduce wait times as much as possible.

“Interim Health New Zealand is developing a comprehensive plan to support improved equity of access to Planned Care services and reduce waiting lists around the country once the burden of covid-19 on the health system starts to decrease,” she said.

“This builds on work already under way within district health boards.

“There are short-term and long-term actions that can be taken”

She said resources would be allocated to stabilise Planned Care services across New Zealand, including optimising the capacity in public and private facilities.

“In the long-term, the focus is on workforce and facility planning. The Ministry of Health is also leading a general campaign to recruit health professionals domestically and overseas to help boost the workforce.”

Oliff said she recognised that significant wait times were not optimal for any patients.

“We fully support the task force, and in Wairarapa, we want to be part of a solution.”



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