This article was written by Megan Wilson for the Bay of Plenty Times. Published March 5, 2023. To access the original article, click here.
Sally Belcher can no longer walk her dogs or go to the supermarket due to the pain in her joints.
The 67-year-old Katikati woman has been waiting for more than a year for a hip replacement at Tauranga Hospital, saying the pain has made her feel “older than my years”.
She is one of 3128 people waiting for surgery in the Bay of Plenty region.
Data received from Te Whatu Ora Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty showed 2580 people were waiting for surgery at Tauranga Hospital and 548 people at Whakatāne Hospital as of the end of January.
It also showed the number of people waiting for surgery in the region had declined by 277 people between September and January. In September, the waitlist had 3405 people on it.
Additionally, data received under the Official Information Act from Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand showed 1406 surgeries were cancelled in the Bay of Plenty region last year. Of those, 1203 patients were rescheduled for a new date and 203 were not. The data excludes the reasoning for patient cancellations.
Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times, Belcher said she was told by her doctor in January 2022 she needed a hip replacement.
In August, she had her pre-operation appointment but still has not had surgery, nor does she have a scheduled date.
Belcher said she also has rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis and needs an infusion every six months to “slow down” her arthritis.
“But I haven’t had it since May last year. That’s because if I have the infusion and then they call me in to have the operation, I have to wait four months after the infusion before I can have the operation.
“It’s not just one joint, it’s all joints. With me not having my infusion, it’s double the pain. It’s not just one issue.”
She said the pain could be “quite bad”.
“I can’t do anything – I’ve put on weight because I’m sitting down … I can’t take my dogs for a walk.
“Mentally, it’s very challenging because you’re up and down like a yo-yo. One day you think, ‘There’s always someone worse off than yourself’, and then another day you’re in a hell of a pain and you just wish you’d hurry up and get it done.”
Belcher said she no longer did grocery shopping because it was too painful to walk around the supermarket. Her partner did the shopping instead.
Each day, she would try to do a bit of housework, read and watch TV. She also bought a mobility scooter so she could get outside and walk her dogs.
“I’m feeling older than my years.”
Belcher said she was taking pain relief medication, but hoped to get a date for her surgery so she could get her infusion.
If she was called up for surgery and had to say no because of her infusion, “then I’m put right down back at the bottom of the list”.
Te Whatu Ora Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty acting interim hospital and services lead Sarah Mitchell said high levels of acute demand were being experienced at Tauranga and Whakatāne Hospitals, which had required the deferral of planned care to manage acute presentations requiring surgical intervention.
“Recruitment to the healthcare workforce worldwide, nationally and here in the Bay of Plenty, is a significant challenge.”
Staff taking sick leave had disrupted services, she said.
“We appreciate the impact that delays in surgery and treatment have on patients and their whānau, and we are working hard to reduce the waiting times for all patients.”
Mitchell said a growing population, particularly older population groups, had increased the volume of planned care demand and had led to surgery backlogs developing.
“Acute and cancer surgeries always take priority, and as demand in these areas has grown over time, it leaves less capacity for other planned care to take place.”
Mitchell said waitlists were being “heavily influenced” by what had happened previously, including Covid lockdowns, which meant fewer elective surgeries could take place.
“When combined with issues such as increased staff sickness, this has hampered hospitals’ ability to deliver the number of planned care treatments expected.
“These undelivered numbers then tip over into the next month, creating bulges in waitlsts that are occurring at a higher rate than treatment can keep pace with.
“This trend is expected to continue in the coming months.”
Mitchell said any decisions to defer planned care were made in conjunction with clinical teams on the basis of careful consideration of patient safety, the needs of the patient, their whānau and the resources available.
“These decisions are not taken lightly, and our focus is on how we continue to provide safe care to those acute patients.”
Mitchell said it had been expanding its integrated operations centre teams, which managed daily capacity and patient flow to ensure it used all capacity and resources “as well as we possibly can”.
Mitchell said Te Whatu Ora continued to monitor waiting lists and maintained contact with patients to ensure, if necessary, their condition was reprioritised if there was a change in urgency.
Patients requiring acute and semi-urgent treatment were prioritised.