Broken system on the mend

An artist's impression shows what the under-construction Southern Cross surgical hospital, at Ladies Mile, will look like. Image: Supplied
An artist's impression shows what the under-construction Southern Cross surgical hospital, at Ladies Mile, will look like. Image: Supplied
Thousands of dollars spent transporting patients with broken bones to Southland and  Dunedin hospitals could soon be saved.

Southern District Health Board and ACC have been spending up to $560 each way on transporting patients with orthopaedic injuries by taxi from Queenstown to the base hospitals.

While the DHB’s rural manager Debi Lawry says it’s rare for taxis to be sanctioned, St John’s shuttles or petrol-expense paid private cars are used regularly.

Mountain Scene understands some complete the $1000-plus round taxi trip without treatment because they’re bumped down the operating list, due to more urgent cases coming in.

While simple breaks can be treated at Lakes District Hospital, complex or emergency treatment’s done at Southland or Dunedin hospitals.

But, that could change for non-emergency orthopaedic operations, when a new surgical hospital opens at Ladies Mile in December.

Run in partnership by Southern Cross Hospitals and Central Lakes Trust, their adviser Andrew Blair says a deal’s all but signed with the DHB.

‘‘It will relieve the pressure on Invercargill and Dunedin, as well as be better for the local community here in Queenstown.’’

DHB surgery and radiology general manager Dr Janine Cochrane says all that remains is to fidget with schedules to allow their Southland surgeons to operate in Queenstown once a week, without leaving the bigger hospital short-staffed.

She estimates about three people a week from Queenstown require non-emergency operations and could benefit from the new arrangement.

Those needing urgent treatment would still be flown or taken by ambulance to the bigger hospitals.

Cochrane says operations on Wanaka patients by Dunedin-based surgeons may be a possibility down the track at the new Queenstown facility.

Lawry says in 2018, 45% of presentations to Lakes District’s ED were the result of an accident, with the majority being broken bones.

The two orthopaedic clinics run at Lakes District Hospital are often over-subscribed and patients sometimes have to travel south for check-ups with specialists.

But, till now, facilities and staffing have been limited by funding, which the Ministry of Health decides on by population, she says.

‘‘This is particularly a challenge in Southern, which is the DHB with the largest geographic area, difficult terrain and, at times, inclement weather.

‘‘This means that patient transport is a very important aspect of our overall delivery of health care in our district.’’

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