Surgery under review

20:19, Nov 25 2012

The death of a patient during surgery has led the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board to review the scope of surgery at a provincial hospital.

The death is one of three included in a 2010-11 serious and sentinel events report released yesterday by the board.

The report says the coroner is investigating two of the deaths at Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, or Nelson Hospital, one during surgery and another after a serious medication error which was "unlikely to have been the cause".

The board would not provide any further details of these cases or name the hospital, although it provides surgery at only the Nelson and Blenheim hospitals.

The report says a third patient died after what was presumed to be a hospital-related infection. As a result of this, staff were being educated and audited on sterilising techniques.

Three falls resulting in broken hips at Wairau or Nelson hospitals were also listed, leading to more resources and time being put into the falls prevention programme.


Elected board member Gerald Hope, of Blenheim, told the Marlborough Express after the board release that specialist services at Wairau Hospital must not be eroded. Regions such as Marlborough with small populations had difficulty attracting skilled specialists.

"In the provinces this is a huge problem, which is why we use locums."

Board members had been fully informed about sentinel events to a level where patient confidentiality was not breached, Mr Hope said. They had been invited to submit written questions and one related to the split of incidents between Wairau and Nelson hospitals.

He could not remember the breakdown for 2011-12 but said information the board recorded generally reflected the one third-two thirds population split between Marlborough and Nelson.

Board chief medical officer Heather McPherson said every healthcare professional came to work to make a positive difference in patients and strived to give the best possible care.

"However, errors do happen and have tragic and very serious consequences."

By releasing these events to the public, the board was acknowledging it took quality and safety issues in its hospitals very seriously, Dr McPherson said.

The board is required by the Health Ministry to release the information each year.

During the 2011-12 year, 29,980 patients had been admitted to Wairau and Nelson hospitals, 47,115 were treated at the emergency department and 150,113 had outpatient appointments.

A Health Ministry table shows serious sentinel events in Nelson Marlborough sit immediately below the national average of just under 5 per 10,000 hospital discharges. The board also performed better than average if falls were excluded.

All boards throughout the country released their serious and sentinel events reports yesterday. A ministry press release said 360 incidents were recorded, including 91 deaths, compared with 370 the previous year. The deaths were not necessarily a result of the adverse event and included 17 suspected in-patient suicides.

A comparison of death rates around the country was not available.

Hope has confidence in Wairau

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board elected member Gerald Hope, of Blenheim, says he has full confidence in Wairau Hospital and would happy to be treated there.Mr Hope, who chairs a board committee, said procedures for dealing with a doctor who stood down after a death at the hospital in May were slow.

However, the board was taking action to ensure the Blenheim hospital was safe during investigations, including employing a locum to pick up his workload. This was costly, but essential, when the board was running a deficit, he said.

The doctor was still on full pay.

''When we are carrying two salaries, which is not budgeted for, there will be a deficit,'' he said.

''At the end of the day, this is just a small percentage of the operating budget.''

The Marlborough Express asked the board on Tuesday whether residents could feel confident about being treated at Wairau Hospital, following confirmation the police are investigating a death there at the request of the coroner, the Health and Disability Commission and the Medical Council.

Express staff have been fielding questions from people wanting to know the name of the doctor being investigated and whether Wairau Hospital was safe.

Board chairman John Peters said he would ''expect that a responsible journalist'' would refer inquiries of that nature to the hospital.

''We have had no inquiries of this nature.''

He believed service at Wairau Hospital to be of a good standard and had always considered patient safety to be the highest priority.'

The Marlborough Express