Wait of 'years' for breast surgery

Andrea Macnee is frustrated with the long wait for breast reconstruction surgery. Photo by...
Andrea Macnee is frustrated with the long wait for breast reconstruction surgery. Photo by Christine O'Connor.
A Dunedin woman who had a mastectomy more than two years ago is ''unbelievably frustrated'' with the scores of people waiting for breast reconstruction surgery at Dunedin Hospital.

Andrea Macnee (33) found a lump on her left breast in December 2012 and was diagnosed with cancer. A few weeks later, her breast was removed.

The rest of the year was ''a fog of chemotherapy and recovery''.

In January last year, a surgeon at Dunedin Hospital told her the wait for the reconstruction surgery would be between six months and a year.

But late last year, another surgeon told her to expect to wait at least another two years.

She was told 19 people were on a waiting list for the surgery and there were ''lots more'' people behind her.

''I was really sad when I heard there were so many people waiting - they treat us like numbers.''

She was told no breast reconstruction surgery happened in Dunedin last year due to a lack of funding and available theatre time.

The ''waiting in the dark'' was ''excruciatingly tough'' because the surgery would return ''normality'' to her life.

''For a young woman, having just one breast is a huge thing ... it's hard to get on with your life.''

Since the mastectomy she had stopped swimming with her 6 year old son Jayden and lacked the confidence to pursue an intimate relationship.

''I still feel incomplete and can't move on in my life.''

When she felt the lump in 2012, she wished she had private health insurance.

''I probably would have had [the surgery] done by now but I'm waiting on this bloody health system which has stuck its head in the sand.''

Southern District Health Board surgical directorate medical director Murray Fosbender said the Southern DHB carried out immediate breast reconstruction surgery when ''clinically appropriate''.

But due to limited resources, it had the capacity to provide only a ''very limited number'' of secondary breast reconstructions, Mr Fosbender said.

''Women who are assessed at the time of initial surgery as requiring secondary reconstruction are placed on a staged procedure list as per Ministry of Health guidelines.''

When asked how many breast reconstruction surgeries were completed last year, how many were planned this year and how many people were on the waiting list, a board spokeswoman said the request had to be logged as an Official Information Act request.

-shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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