Surgical services general manager Janine Cochrane said the board hoped to avoid adding to already bulging waiting lists, which are largely a legacy of the lengthy shutdown of normal hospital services due to last year’s Covid-19 outbreak.
‘‘Services are also working on how much planned care can be safely delivered in the weeks ahead, should alert levels remain elevated, so some Southern patients requiring non-urgent care can continue to be treated,’’ Ms Cochrane said.
The most recent report from chief executive Chris Fleming to the SDHB board said nursing vacancies were also putting extreme pressure on the ability to perform planned surgeries.
Mr Fleming’s report said a new prioritisation tool had resulted in orthopaedic care breaching acceptable waiting times dropping from 240 caseweights (a measure of the complexity of a case) to 150.
Outpatient gynaecology procedures had also had some success tackling wait lists, dropping from 229 breaches to 165.
‘‘Our most significant challenge for inpatient surgical recovery is in orthopaedic surgery,’’ Mr Fleming said.
The board has a recovery plan, which includes sending inpatient cases to South Canterbury for surgery in Timaru Hospital.
It also plans to use the new Southern Cross hospital in Queenstown for some operations when it opens.
‘‘Given the disruption to orthopaedic surgery if there is insufficient nursing or cancellations to prioritise acute surgery it is sensible to try to permanently increase the rate of outplaced or outsourced orthopaedic surgery at both hospitals within the confines of the available budget.’’
However, the new Level 4 lockdown has greatly affected those plans, although some planned and urgent consultations are now being conducted by telehealth and oncology treatment also continues to be provided.
Ms Cochrane said some surgical and radiology services planned care procedures scheduled this week at Dunedin and Southland hospitals would go ahead.
Postponed surgery and outpatients’ appointments would be a priority when full capacity resumed.