ZB

Hospital waiting lists to be managed nationally, months before DHB reform

Author
Emma Russell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 May 2022, 10:08am

Hospital waiting lists to be managed nationally, months before DHB reform

Author
Emma Russell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 May 2022, 10:08am

Hospital waiting lists will be managed nationally to tackle the delay in appointments and operations.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced the Government's plan to tackle growing hospital waiting lists escalated by the Covid-19 pandemic this morning.

The response is being led by interim Health New Zealand and the interim Māori Health Authority - both of which will become permanent entities when the Government health reforms come into effect on July 1.

"Covid-19 has been hugely disruptive to hospital systems all over the world," Little said.

"New Zealand has done better than most countries. Our elimination strategy not only prevented tens of thousands of deaths, it also protected our health system from being over-run, as we saw happen in countries like Italy and the United States.

"In fact, for most of the past two years, our hospitals have been free of Covid-19 and were able to keep functioning normally for long periods of time."

However, nearly 30,000 New Zealanders were stuck in delays for hospital treatment in August last year, and experts say it's likely to have gotten far worse since then as the Delta and Omicron waves caused even more delays.

"For people who need these procedures and appointments, having to wait is distressing," Little said.

"Now, with the benefit of having one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world, and with a suite of new medicines available to treat Covid-19 patients and keep many of them out of hospital, we can start managing on a more business-as-usual basis."

A Herald review of recovery plans filed by all 20 DHBs, identified dozens of services that were already under severe stress before the pandemic struck.

According to those documents, clinicians feared that those needing treatment could suffer serious consequences. One major DHB warned that delays in its ophthalmology service could result in people going blind.

The recovery plans were sent to the Ministry of Health during the 2020/21 summer and estimated how quickly delays for planned care, including elective procedures, could be reduced.

Patients whose treatment was delayed during the first phase of the pandemic have since been treated, the ministry said in August. However, the system is so strained that new backlogs have since built up.

According to the ministry's figures, as at August, more than 15,700 people were currently waiting longer than four months - the maximum time someone should wait under official guidelines - for a first appointment with a specialist. Another 13,500 had been accepted for treatment, but were waiting longer than the four month target.

On Sunday, the Herald reported nearly 50,000 women were overdue for their mammograms because breast screening couldn't happen during Covid-19 lockdowns.

New Zealand's Breast Cancer Foundation warned this meant more than 300 could have the disease without knowing.

Back in January, Auckland DHB reported that they had 175 patients on wait lists for cardio thoracic surgeries.

A father who had had two heart attacks and was told by a doctor that there was a very real risk he could drop dead at any moment, was being tormented after waiting months for surgery.

At the time, Auckland District Health Board's interim director for cardiovascular services Joanne Bos said there had been a significant increase of heart surgery referrals since October, as well as more than usual emergency cases, which was affecting wait times for some planned surgery.