This article was written by Stephen Forbes, Local Democracy Reporter, for RNZ (Radio New Zealand). Published December 23, 2022. To access the original article, click here.
The number of people in South Auckland waiting for non-acute elective surgery continues to grow.
And despite the Ministry of Health announcing it expects Covid-19 case numbers to peak this week, Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) says it expects the pressure on hospital wait lists to continue for some time yet.
Data to the end of October shows there were 5210 patients waiting for non-acute elective surgery in Counties Manukau – up 53 percent on the same time last year – while 1115 people had been waiting longer than four months.
Te Whatu Ora’s Fionnagh Dougan said the numbers reflected the pressure throughout the health system.
Covid-19 lockdowns had reduced the number of operations which could be carried out, adding to an existing queue, she said.
The recent surge in Covid-19 cases has also affected staff sickness levels.
“These undelivered numbers then tip over into the next month, creating bulges in waitlists that are occurring at a higher rate than treatment can keep pace with,” Dougan said.
“This trend is expected to continue in the coming months.”
Dougan said orthopaedics, which includes patients needing knee or hip replacements, as well as ear, nose and throat and general surgeries are among the areas most affected.
Any decision to defer non-acute surgery was made after consideration of a patient’s safety, the needs of the patient and their whānau and the resources available, she said.
“Te Whatu Ora leads are continuing to monitor waiting lists and maintain contact with patients to ensure, if necessary, their condition is reprioritised if there is a change in urgency,” Dougan said.
In May, Health Minister Andrew Little launched a planned care taskforce, led by Counties Manukau chief medical officer Andrew Connolly, to look at how to reduce waiting lists.
The taskforce delivered its findings in October, with 101 recommendations, including giving GPs greater abilities to diagnose patients, moving patients between regions for care and an increased use of the private sector.
Age Concern New Zealand chief executive Karen Billings-Jensen said waiting for an operation could be tough for the elderly and something as simple as a knee replacement could have unforeseen consequences.
“When you are waiting for elective surgery as an older person it can be really debilitating.
“It might lead to a further reduction in someone’s mobility and someone’s overall health might decline as well.”
Billings-Jensen understood it was a trying time for those in the health system, but said the numbers of people waiting for elective surgery was a problem.
“Certainly they are playing catch-up on the outstanding backlog of elective surgery,” she said. “But we would like to see those with the greatest need given greater priority.”