Spending rise for locum specialist outsourcing

Spending on locum specialists has skyrocketed as Dunedin Hospital struggles to fill the gap in its urology service.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ) Southern spent $236,573 on outsourcing last year in order to battle the ongoing shortfall of 1.8 fulltime equivalent (FTE) urologists.

The data, released yesterday in response to an Official Information Act request by the Otago Daily Times, shows the organisation spent $9284 on locum urologists in 2022, and just $1453 in 2021.

Dunedin’s service is supposed to have 3.6 FTE urologists, but currently only has 1.8, and so far efforts to double that number have been unsuccessful.

"The significant increase from 2022 to 2023 is due to existing vacancies at the start of the year, a further resignation, unplanned leave and the weekend super clinic.

"The spend on locums was funded from the money that would have been spent on the vacant urologist positions", the response said.

The last time the hospital employed a fully-staffed team of urologists was in March 2022, when it was budgeted for 2.75 FTE.

HNZ Southern said it had consistently advertised the vacancies throughout last year, and had engaged a market specialist to carry out a targeted search.

There were three inquiries of interest in that time, although one was withdrawn.

However, the OIA response confirmed HNZ Southern was still advertising for 1.8 FTE urologists — the same number as last July.

HNZ Southern has previously said the Dunedin service was being supported by Southland urologists, as well as locum staff.

Those most in need were being prioritised, and the urology nursing team had been given increased clinical scope.

Urologists from throughout the country pitched in to assist Dunedin at a weekend mega clinic last September, and planning was under way for another one last next month.

However, waiting lists have been a growing problem — data last month showed there were 395 patients waiting for their first specialist assessment, up from 306 last October.

Two patients recently described their struggles to be seen by a specialist at the urology department, as reported by the ODT last month.

One said they had been waiting in pain for four months already when they received a letter informing them they were on a waiting list to be seen within four months.

The second was brushed off by HNZ in the same letter that acknowledged he should be given an appointment.

"The specialist has indicated that your condition is one that should be seen but unfortunately you have not been offered an appointment due to the number of people waiting with a higher level of need", the letter stated.