Long wait for surgery

LIVING IN PAIN:  Leigh Gifkins is waiting for the go-ahead for much-needed surgery to correct a spinal condition.
LIVING IN PAIN: Leigh Gifkins is waiting for the go-ahead for much-needed surgery to correct a spinal condition.


Canterbury District Health Board specialists will be able to perform complex spinal surgery on Leigh Gifkins to straighten her spine but board doctors are still waiting for a referral letter from Nelson Marlborough District Health Board. Gifkins, 52, had been passed between the boards three times in three months for a laminectomy operation.

The mother-of-three suffers from a lumbar spinal stenosis which has caused a curvature of the spine. Her mobility is deteriorating and she requires rods to be inserted to straighten and stabilise her spine.

In March, two Nelson Marlborough specialists referred Gifkins for surgery at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch, home to a specialist spinal unit.

Burwood doctors said she faced a 12-month wait for surgery and Nelson Marlborough specialists could carry out the operation.

In May, two specialists at Nelson Hospital agreed the surgery could go ahead in the region but backtracked on their decision at the 11th hour, saying the six-hour surgery was too complex. Gifkins was then referred back to the Canterbury DHB.

Canterbury DHB general manager of planning and funding Carolyn Gullery said there had been a breakdown in communication and Gifkins was not a surgical referral. Both boards had been discussing the type of operation appropriate, she said.

"To date, Canterbury DHB has not been asked to undertake this surgery. The patient was referred to Canterbury DHB for a second opinion to see whether the type and extent of surgery planned in Nelson Marlborough DHB was appropriate and whether or not the surgery could be performed in Nelson Marlborough DHB.

"From that assessment it was established that Ms Gifkins did not need to have treatment provided in a tertiary hospital setting and that it is appropriate for her to have it performed in a secondary facility under Nelson Marlborough District Health Board."

Gullery apologised for a communication breakdown and said Burwood Hospital could perform the surgery but had not received a referral letter from Gifkins' specialist at Nelson Hospital.

The board would perform Gifkins' surgery within five months of a surgical assessment, Gullery said.

If Gifkins' symptoms deteriorated before surgery she would be considered for acute surgery or as an urgent re-priority case.

The Marlborough Express