Surgery wait forces house sale

Port Chalmers man Ray Scott says he was forced to sell his house because of uncertainty over a...
Port Chalmers man Ray Scott says he was forced to sell his house because of uncertainty over a timeline for his back surgery. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Southern patients being put on a surgery waiting list will soon be told how much time they might face, the health system says.

However, the assurance comes too late for Ray Scott, who sold his home recently amid uncertainty about when his much-needed back surgery would take place.

Mr Scott said the recent sale of his Port Chalmers house would not have occurred if surgery for spinal stenosis had already taken place.

However, the hilltop Scotia St house presented too much of a challenge due to the 86-year-old’s condition, which sometimes made it almost impossible to walk because of pressure on his spinal cord and nerves.

He called on Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) to keep those on waiting lists better informed.

HNZ Southern chief medical officer Dr David Gow said on Friday those placed on a waiting list for surgery were notified via a letter.

"Currently, this letter does not provide an estimated wait time.

"However, these letters have been reviewed and we are working with other Te Waipounamu [South Island] districts to roll out a new template that does give an indicative time for surgery."

There were at present 57 people waiting for spinal surgery in Southern, he said.

The average wait time for this was nearly a year — 348 days.

Waiting times were based on clinical urgency and the length of time a patient had been on the waiting list.

"We encourage this patient to go back to his GP, who can reassess his condition and amend his referral if necessary."

Patients could contact the relevant department at their hospital for an update on approximate waiting times.

HNZ sympathised with all patients facing health challenges while waiting for surgery, Dr Gow said.

Last November, an anesthetist report deemed Mr Scott fit for surgery and recommended it proceed.

HNZ had not been in touch with any updates about his situation, he said last week.

"I still have no idea — I don’t know what’s happening."

The health system was in a bad way financially, and he did not have much confidence in the management of Dunedin Hospital, he said.

"I would like them to, where possible, be more proactive, and at least communicate occasionally with folks like myself on a long-standing waiting list."

If he had already had surgery, he would have needed home help throughout the recovery period, but would not have needed to sell the house.

"[It] got to a point where I walked from my house down to a car one day to go to the shop.

"I was terrified to go to the shop because my legs were getting paralysed every time."

He quite enjoyed the Dunedin rest-home he had relocated to, which suited for personal reasons and because it was a safer environment.

"Since I came here, I’m walking on the flat 99% of the time."

Mr Scott spoke out about health system delays earlier this year, as reported by the Otago Daily Times.

Last November the anesthetist could not give any timeframe for the operation, Mr Scott said.

His call to the hospital a month later to ask for a rough indication had shed light on the expected delay.

"[A receptionist] told me she looked up the records, and told me quite bluntly it would likely be at least another year."

It seemed "Third World" that he could not get the treatment he urgently needed after paying taxes for 70 years, he said at the time.

The public deserved better from the health system.