Specialists 'too busy' - doctors' union

Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013

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Stressed hospital staff being micromanaged to meet targets are putting patients' lives at risk, a doctors' union says.

A combination of increased government expectations on hospitals and diminishing increases in funding meant resources were being stretched, Ian Powell, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said.

Powell, who spoke at the Hospital and Community Dentistry Conference at the weekend about the issue, said stretched resources meant:

Elective surgery was being pushed through as quickly as possible, with shorter operations being given priority, "so you are in luck if you have a simple, fast operation and out of luck if it is complex".

Post-operative care or post-clinic follow-up is being compromised because specialists are too busy.

Mistakes by rushed staff in emergency departments mean patients are being sent to the wrong hospital department, delaying treatment.

Those with chronic illnesses are missing out. "Because chronic illnesses are ongoing and complex, they don't lend themselves to targets."

But Health Minister Tony Ryall rejected the criticism.

"Patients are getting faster and better access to services across the board - and better post-operative care."

He said 35,000 more people a year were getting elective operations than in 2008. "And the complexity of those operations has not changed."

"New Zealand is spending $14.6 billion on our public health services and, over the last five years, we have increased health funding by an average $500 million a year," Ryall said.

More than 1000 extra doctors and 2000 extra nurses worked in the public health service than in 2008, while 94 per cent of emergency department patients were now seen within six hours, compared with 67 per cent under the previous Labour administration.

However, Powell insisted a squeeze was occurring.

He said senior management and specialists were bombarded with calls and texts from the central government, which meant they were constantly distracted to the point that mistakes were being made.

"With the environment of excessive micro-management, it forces hospitals to distort their own clinical priorities about what should be done and creates too much pressure on them," Powell said.

"It creates increased risk of mistakes being made in various ways for patients and patients' care.

"The more you pressure a system, the more likely it is that mistakes will be made," Powell said.

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- Fairfax Media

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