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About 20 patients a month are predicted to be trekking north for operations as the SDHB tackles a substantial waiting list in elective operations, board specialist services executive director Patrick Ng told a hospital advisory committee meeting yesterday.
"They have got spare beds and an available surgeon to augment our capacity and to enable us to catch up on our wait list.
"That will start with a small number of patients but as we build momentum we are looking at transferring about 20 cases a month from our wait list."
Each operation is given a caseweight number to reflect its complexity and the resources needed to do it: Mr Ng said the SDHB was 205 caseweights behind plan.
If operations on patients from other regions, or SDHB patients being operated on elsewhere, were included, the board was an additional 166 caseweights behind schedule.
Orthopaedics were actually ahead of schedule as recently as November due to the SDHB using other health providers to catch up on operations missed during lockdown.
However, the Christmas break, staff shortages and bed block issues meant the board was now well behind the eight ball, and orthopaedics were now 314 case weights down.
Numerous procedures are below expected numbers, such as ear nose and throat, gynaecology, and especially ophthalmology.
There was some good news in the data, as general surgery was well ahead of target.
"The other area we are looking at is acute surgery, where even before Covid we had experienced challenges delivering electives for that group of patients," Mr Ng said.
The board was considering putting on extra surgical lists, and was now monitoring "bed closures" in hospitals on a daily basis to try to maximise the number of beds with staff to tend to the patients in them and minimise postponement of surgery, Mr Ng said.
Crown monitor Roger Jarrold said that people were regularly being "bumped" from schedules for operations they needed and had long-planned for.
"They have geared up for it and for whatever reason it hasn’t happened ... we have previously heard that we were making progress but we don’t seem to be getting there.
"Bed closures are having a profound impact on the whole hospital and the provision of health care in Otago and Southland."