Elective surgery criteria needs overhaul, injured man says

Barry Adams, 35, needs surgery for a prolapsed disc in his spine.
STACY SQUIRES / FAIRFAXNZ

Barry Adams, 35, needs surgery for a prolapsed disc in his spine.

A Christchurch man turned down for back surgery says the Government is "promoting disability" by underfunding health services. 

Barry Adams, 35, suffered a prolapsed disc in his upper spine when his bike hit a pothole in 2014.

The IT business analyst has since been denied surgery twice as he did not meet Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) criteria – despite it being the recommended treatment.

Symptoms include chronic neck pain, poor sleep, constant fatigue and "blinding headaches", which have become worse since the accident. In April, he took a month off work and now works part-time.

At his latest appointment, a specialist told Adams he would not be accepted for surgery unless he could not work, or walk more than 50 metres.

"How can a DHB actively promote disability by saying to people like me 'you need surgery, but you don't qualify and you're never going to get it'? If you are doing that you are promoting disability."

Adams complained to the Ministry of Health about his lack of treatment.

A CDHB customer service manager responded, saying Adams could be considered for radiculopathy surgery to reduce pressure on the nerves in his neck, but the public system would not pay for it.

"This would be an elective procedure, which the public sector is unable to accommodate at this time due to more severe spinal cases  . . . which must be given priority."

In this week's Budget, the CDHB's 2017-18 funding increased by $39.6m on the previous year to a total of $1.375b.

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Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman said the CDHB would receive an extra $51m on last year's budget. A spokeswoman for Coleman said the amount included "devolved funding".

Adams did not think this would be enough to pay for care – including elective surgery – for all the people needing it. 

There were many worse off than him. It was time for a system overhaul, he said. 

"It's affecting the economy and people's wellbeing and they haven't increased the funding to cater for the number of people coming through."

The Budget gave the CDHB and Hawke's Bay DHB a 2.9 per cent increase – the lowest of all DHBs.

Capital and Coast DHB had the highest increases, at 5.1 per cent. The average was 4.5 per cent. 

Board member Aaron Keown said the CDHB's funding was "not enough" because the Government underestimated Canterbury's population growth and post-earthquake deprivation levels.

Services had stayed at the same level to date, but there would be "a breaking point", Keown said. 

"I still don't think the Government gets how hard it is to run a health system post-disaster."

Board member Jo Kane said she would not support a cut to services while, she believed, the population-based funding formula was incorrectly applied. 

"The problem here is a Ministry of Health and a Minister who refuse to engage properly with Canterbury to what the issues actually are.

"The issues are the population and parity of equity of funding with the rest of New Zealand."

Labour health spokesman David Clark said it seemed "crazy" Canterbury had received the lowest percentage increase in its health budget. 

"We know Canterbury spends an awful lot more on mental health than they are funded for and the announcements made in the budget go nowhere near addressing that."

Adams said he spent close to $2000 for further scans and an assessment by a private specialist in April this year.

The doctor again confirmed he would benefit from surgery and arranged another appointment at Christchurch Hospital in June.

Adams said he was hoping he would be accepted for surgery.

 - Stuff

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