Elective surgery just meets target

The Southern District Health Board is on track to meet its elective surgery target for this financial year but it will be a close-run thing, statistics released by the National Party suggest.

The figures, which collated Ministry of Health figures for the nine months to March across a range elective surgical specialties, showed at least 10,000 people nationwide were set to miss out on surgery, party leader Simon Bridges said.

With the financial year three-quarters of the way through, National said DHBs would need to be at a 75% elective discharge rate if they were to meet their annual target.

On that measure, the SDHB matches well to other DHBs, at an overall 75.25% rate.

The SDHB has prioritised elective surgery in recent months as a way to try to increase its revenue and tackle its $25million deficit.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said the organisation had faced "challenges" as a result of five strikes by Resident Doctors' Association (RDA) union members since the start of this year, as had all DHBs across the country.

However, the "effective contingency planning and the dedication of non-striking clinical and support staff" had helped mitigate the impact of the strikes, he said.

"During the various RDA strikes we lost an average of about 30% of our daily elective capacity for each day of the strike.

"However, we have made up for this by outsourcing additional elective procedures and we are on track to achieve our elective surgery target for 2018-19."

An additional regular monthly list for cardiothoracic procedures at Mercy Hospital, introduced earlier this year, had also helped the SDHB meet demand, as had an increase in critical care nursing numbers to reduce postponements occurring due to insufficiently staffed ICU beds.

However, while some areas performed well over 75%, notably general and neurosurgery, the SDHB was well down on cardiothoracic and urology procedures.

Urology surgery delays have vexed the SDHB for some time, and it has previously staged special clinics to try to reduce its waiting lists.

The most recent SDHB commissioners' meeting heard that the delay in opening stage one of Dunedin Hospital's new critical care ward had contributed towards a recent high rate of cancellation of cardiothoracic operations.

Dunedin-based MP and National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said he understood the unavailability of a surgeon had affected cardiothoracic operations, but this was still an area the SDHB needed to be much better in.

"It's not acceptable to say we are one surgeon down, 40-50 people are going to have to wait. This is cardiac surgery," Mr Woodhouse said.

"We say lives are being put at risk, and it's not really overstating it to say that."

Mr Bridges said the Government had promised to improve elective surgery numbers but had failed to do so.

"When you add this to at least 1500 cases that Health Minister David Clark said were cancelled due to the junior doctors' strike in April, the number of unperformed elective surgeries is almost certain to be about 10,000 fewer by year's end.

"This is a serious problem. These procedures include cancer, cardiac and neurosurgery operations, so they are more than minor."

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