Hospital wait time twice guidelines

Carol Bryan, of Oamaru, holds a letter from the Southern District Health Board advising her that...
Carol Bryan, of Oamaru, holds a letter from the Southern District Health Board advising her that her heart condition should be seen to faster than the public system can allow. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN
An Oamaru retiree with a suspected heart condition feels "let down'' after learning she has to wait up to eight weeks for an outpatient appointment at Dunedin Hospital.

Carol Bryan (64) was also told in a recent letter from the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) that because her wait time would be twice as long as the Ministry of Health's national guidelines, she might like to consider a private assessment.

The SDHB says advising patients of other options, such as private assessment, is routine to help address patient anxiety about waiting times, but Mrs Bryan says she cannot afford private healthcare.

"When we've worked in New Zealand all our lives ... we've paid our taxes. I feel when we get older and we've got some medical issues, then we should be looked after.''

She often felt breathless and dizzy, and had "chest pains going up into my neck''.

"When I go for a walk, or do the vacuuming, things like that, I have to go and sit down. That's not me - I've been a fit person.

"And my heart's missing a beat, and I can't get my breath.''

She spent two days in Oamaru Hospital after being admitted to the emergency department this winter, but doctors there could not find anything wrong with her.

She said she was earlier denied Holter monitoring by the SDHB because five years ago she was monitored and the device did not detect anything wrong.

She later went to a different general practitioner, who suggested she see a specialist and so she paid $200 for an appointment at Marinoto Clinic to "get the ball rolling''.

Now, in an unsigned letter from the SDHB's cardiology outpatients unit manager, she had been advised her referral was "triaged'' by medical staff and she had been given "semi-urgent priority'', which had an eight-week wait for an appointment.

The letter also says "the recommended waiting time for this priority is four weeks'' in the Ministry of Health's guidelines.

"How would they know I'm semi-urgent? I've had no tests back - how would they know I'm not really critical?'' Mrs Bryan said yesterday.

Further, to get the test she now believed she needed would be $700 at the private clinic.

SDHB medical director Dr Belinda Green said she could not speak about specific patients, but the health board's cardiology services received about 4000 referrals a year, "around half of which are new outpatient referrals''.

The triage system had three categories - urgent, semi-urgent and routine.

"In the case of referrals deemed semi-urgent, the patient is usually seen within a couple of weeks. But in the small number of patients where the cardiologist has deemed a Holter monitoring test is necessary prior to the clinic, and it is clinically safe to do so, this can be up to eight weeks as this procedure can take some time to arrange.''

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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