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Wairarapa Hospital surgical capacity to halve
Recruiting surgeons no easy task for Wairarapa District Health Board

Wairarapa Hospital will soon have only one orthopaedic surgeon instead of four, meaning Wairarapa patients may need to travel elsewhere for surgeries while recruitment is under way.

Long-serving orthopaedic surgeon Konrad Schwanecke has resigned after 18 years at the hospital.

This comes just weeks after the retirement of fellow surgeon Ian Denholm, effectively halving surgical capacity and leaving the Wairarapa District Health Board short in orthopaedic support.

Before this retirement and resignation, the DHB was recruiting for another vacant surgical position, which has now been filled, but the accepted surgeon is awaiting registration and getting immigration approval.

Wairarapa DHB chief executive Dale Oliff said it was working closely with neighbouring hospitals to look at managing orthopaedic cover while it recruited surgeons.

“Konrad will be working through his three-month notice period, which allows us a good amount of time to manage the service ahead of us and shape what that looks like,” Oliff said.

“On behalf of the organisation, our staff, and our patients, I have thanked Konrad for the excellent care he has provided our community, and for his continued advocacy for quality and efficiency in the delivery of care in this DHB,” she said.

“Konrad will continue to work in his private capacity at Selina Sutherland Hospital, so we are pleased he is not lost to the region.”

Wairarapa DHB’s orthopaedic service is usually provided by four resident surgeons and some locum cover, rostered to provide 24/7 care.

Chief Medical Officer Shawn Sturland said the management team at Wairarapa Hospital was working hard to ensure the community’s needs could be met despite the capacity gap.

Wairarapa District Health Board has about 900 orthopaedic ward admissions each year.

“We are looking at a period ahead where we will not have a full quorum of orthopaedic surgical cover at this hospital and we will need to either buy in the service or move some of our orthopaedic care out to our neighbouring DHBs until we can successfully recruit,” Sturland said.

There are challenges with attracting surgeons and specialists to rural centres, and Wairarapa DHB was no exception.

“The challenges in employing specialist positions are felt nationwide,” Sturland said.

“We compete on a global stage in healthcare and that can test us.

“But Wairarapa is a unique and particularly desirable location, and we do make sure we celebrate that when we go to market.”

Sturland said discussions with neighbouring DHBs were ongoing and he was confident Wairarapa patients needing immediate orthopaedic care would be catered for.

“When we do not have enough specialist coverage to safely fill rosters, the gaps mean we have to either not operate, or we have to arrange surgery elsewhere,” he said.

“We always prefer to care for our people close to home, but if that is not in a patient’s best interests, for example if they would have to wait an undue period of time for surgery locally as we don’t have theatre capacity, then we would organise to transfer their surgery to a hospital nearby.

“We don’t want to disrupt our service or disadvantage our patients, but we do have a duty to our community and our priority is always to provide timely, quality care.

“If that means we have to assist people to have their surgery elsewhere until we have a fully operational orthopaedic service locally, then that is what we will do.”

Orthopaedic patients’ surgical needs differ and can be best classified into three separate service areas; planned care, acute care, and acute arranged care.

Planned care is where people are admitted from a waitlist, with their surgery booked ahead.

Acute care is where people are admitted directly, after a trauma injury.

Acute arranged care is where trauma has occurred requiring surgery, and the patient is admitted within seven days of initial assessment.

Wairarapa DHB will be communicating with any booked orthopaedic patients, or patients waiting for surgery information, to keep them informed of any changes to expected care.