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Confidence in health system slips

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 13:22 06/01/2014

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More than half of New Zealand adults believe surgical waiting lists will only get longer, a new survey shows.

Research conducted by polling company TNS showed 57 per cent of New Zealanders believed waiting lists would be even longer in 10 years time.

That was compared to 8 per cent who thought they would be shorter and 22 per cent who thought waiting times would remain the same. Thirteen per cent weren't sure.

Health Fund Association chief executive Roger Styles said the output of surgeries in both public and private sectors had increased, but so had demand.

"Indications are future public health spending is unsustainable under present policy settings," he said.

Surgical waiting times have been a contentious issue over the past year, with the statistical battle gaining significant coverage.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Health showed that over the past five years, elective surgeries saw an average increase of more than 8000 operations a year. In the 2012-13 financial year, a total of 158,500 people had elective surgery.

But Ministry officials were forced to admit to Parliament's health select committee last month, they had no idea how many people had not been put on surgery waiting lists due to backlogs, because the data was not collected.

According to the ministry, if a district health board confirmed it could provide treatment, it should provide that treatment within five months. That target will be reduced to four months from December.

At present, if a patient's condition was not urgent enough to warrant specialist care within five months, but could get worse, that patient could be given the status of "Active Review". The hospital must then re-assess that patient at least every six months for up to 18 months.

Some DHBs have publicly claimed they've had to turn away patients who qualified for surgery, because the surgery could not be completed within the five-month target.

MidCentral DHB revealed last month, it had "significant concerns" about its orthopaedic waiting lists.

A DHB report said certainty of treatment could not be given to additional patients until those who had already been promised surgery within five months received their treatment.

The TNS poll of nearly 2000 New Zealanders over the age of 18 was commissioned by the New Zealand Private Surgical Hospitals Association and the Health Funds Association of New Zealand. It had a margin of error of 2.3 per cent.

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