Skipping the queue by placing trust in somewhere new

Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie was one of the first patients to get surgery at the city’s new...
Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie was one of the first patients to get surgery at the city’s new Intus Clinic. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
When Anthony Ritchie was told he was going to need major bowel surgery, his first thought was: am I going to last long enough to have it, given the lengthy public waiting lists?

Rather than suffer pain and deteriorating health while on a waiting list, the prominent Dunedin composer and University of Otago music lecturer decided to get it sorted sooner rather than later.

He was one of the first to have a surgical procedure done at Dunedin’s new Intus Clinic — a multimillion-dollar medical facility in Great King St, providing specialist endoscopy, general surgery, gastroenterology, gynaecology and fertility services for the people of Dunedin, Southland and Central Otago.

Dr Ritchie said he had an emergency hernia and bowel operation in 2021 which left him with a stoma.

But more recently, the stoma — a surgically made hole in the abdomen that allows body waste to be removed — started causing him major pain.

His only option was to have it removed, but was told it could take a year, possibly longer, to get the surgery on the public waiting list.

"It was quite painful. I decided from my point of view, it was pretty essential to have the operation.

"Who knows how long I would have had to wait on the public waiting list, given the problems the health system is having at the moment."

He had two operations performed by Intus surgeons to have the stoma reversed, and they were able to restore his bowel to "fully functioning" again.

He said having more health care options in Dunedin was a big step forward.

"I do believe that at the moment we need more options for health care, so I think if they can help relieve the pressure on the public health system, that’s great for Dunedin."

Intus general and colorectal surgeon Dr Deborah Wright said scarce resources and staff shortages in the public health system, had combined with Covid-19 to create long waiting lists for surgeries and other medical procedures in recent years.

Dunedin Hospital had been particularly hard hit, with a significant staffing crisis and an extremely overloaded hospital exceeding 100% occupancy in the past month.

Some patients were being referred to Christchurch and other centres for treatment that they could not access locally, she said.

"We’re proud to back up the public health system by providing an alternative service that will take some of the pressure off the public system."

Intus gastroenterologist Dr Kyle Hendry hoped the facility could get people seen sooner, offering timely, private, specialist care options for patients — some of whom could then relinquish their place on the public waiting list.

"One of our specialties is endoscopy, which is the gold standard for detecting bowel cancer and other serious gut problems.

"Around one in 15 Kiwis will develop bowel cancer and it’s the second-highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand.

"However, many patients whose symptoms aren’t immediately identified as high risk, or who have a family history that doesn’t meet the criteria, can find it difficult to get tested. Those patients will be able to be seen quickly by our specialists."

Intus Dunedin has a surgical theatre, five consulting rooms and an endoscopy suite with the latest technology, including artificial intelligence to improve detection of pre-cancerous polyps in the colon.

Its highly specialised clinicians also work closely with international experts from Australia, London and the United States, to give patients access to the latest treatment options.