Bay of Plenty: Waiting list for surgeries doubles in a year at Tauranga and Whakatāne hospitals

Tauranga Hospital. Photo / Georges Novak

The number of people waiting more than four months for elective surgery at Bay of Plenty hospitals has doubled in the past year.

Ministry of Health data shows that 1,692 people waited more than four months for surgery at Tauranga or Whakatāne hospital at the end of June, compared to 636 in June 2021.

In June 2018, only 21 people had waited more than four months.

The ministry requires that all patients who commit to treatment receive it within four months.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said he received calls every week from people who were in “a lot” of pain and were still on the waiting list.

“They’re understandably very upset,” Muller said.

“They sound more exasperation and despair, that they’re in a lot of pain, that they’ve reached the threshold of pain, that means they’re on the waiting list, but they just can’t get in. [for surgery].”

For non-acute surgeries, eligibility is based on Clinical Priority Assessment Criteria (CPAC) and a threshold must be met before a person is eligible for publicly funded surgery.

The CPAC varies between surgeries and between regions.

Muller expressed frustration with what he saw as a “lack of planning” following the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

Todd Muller, Member of Parliament for the Bay of Plenty.  Photo / Georges Novak
Todd Muller, Member of Parliament for the Bay of Plenty. Photo / Georges Novak

Data showed the number of people waiting more than four months for surgery in May 2020 was 1,055. It had fallen from 425 in February.

During the confinement, elective surgeries were cancelled.

By December 2020, the figure had dropped to 362, but since then it has increased month on month.

In Muller’s opinion: “Obviously the investment has not been made to ensure that the people who need these operations are prioritized.

“We absolutely need enough doctors and nurses and specialists, in particular, invested in the system to be able to do that.”

Local Democracy Reporting asked Muller what he thinks needs to be done to reduce wait times.

He replied: “You have to invest in frontline services. Not huge, huge centralizing restructuring bureaucracies.

“You need more doctors, more nurses, more health support workers and more operations because that’s what the population needs.”

The restructuring that Muller is referring to is the health reform that came into effect on July 1, where the country’s 20 district health boards were abolished and the management of the health system was given to Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand.

In response to Muller’s comments on funding and reforms, a spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora said the reforms for the next two years were funded from existing baselines.

“New Zealand Health’s interim plan, which will be launched shortly, will chart a course to implement the reforms without compromising the standard of care currently provided by hospitals and our primary care providers,” the spokesperson said. .

“Furthermore, a single national health service will be much more efficient in the long run, saving the health system money.”

Local Democracy Reporting asked Te Whatu Ora Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty, formerly the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, what was being done to reduce wait times.

Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty Chief Operating Officer Bronwyn Anstis said all patients were being treated in order of clinical priority.

“For patients in non-urgent planned care, we offer the option of contracting out to private providers and tightly managing our theater and procedure room capacity to ensure that we can offer the treatment to the most large number of patients possible,” she said.

“As requested by the Planned Care Task Force, all long-term patients are being clinically reviewed to ensure the assigned priority remains current.”

Anstis said the cause of the increase in surgical wait times was the impact of Covid lockdowns, unscheduled holidays due to Covid and winter illnesses, vacancies, sustained high acute demand and a sustained high occupancy at both hospitals.

She said Hauora a Toi was undertaking a review to determine how long it would take to reduce wait times.

Any patient experiencing a change in their condition should inquire with their referent, who can provide Hauora a Toi with additional information if necessary.

Muller expressed concern that the backlog could be resolved by raising the CPAC threshold.

“What I don’t want to see happen is that they suddenly change the threshold and force people to be completely unable to walk before they can qualify for hip replacement surgery, which is another way that I have seen in the past.”

Anstis replied: “There has been no change in access thresholds in response to the management of patients currently on the waiting list.”

Earlier this month, Health Minister Andrew Little announced a series of measures to tackle healthcare staff shortages.

These included the creation of an international recruitment service, paying up to $10,000 each for nurses to remove financial barriers to completing registration assessments in New Zealand, and a bridging program six months for doctors coming to New Zealand, with salaries paid, including during the six-week clinical induction. and three-month training courses.

The government also planned to double the number of nurse practitioners trained each year from around 50 to 100, use the Shortland Street TV show to attract young people into nursing and encourage nurses to return to practice .

Muller described the Shortland Street campaign as an “entertaining spectacle”.

In his view: “They should turn on the tap of local GP and nurse training and make it easier for foreign specialists to call Tauranga home.”

Spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora said the government’s recently announced manpower measures will smooth the way for national and international applicants for health personnel.

“More doctors and support staff will mean more surgeries every week in Aotearoa in the long term.

“However, it will take some time for the impact of the new measures to be reflected specifically on waiting times.”

– Public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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