High-cost cases help push DHB over budget

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
Troy Mahupuku
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ
PROUD PARENTS: Troy Mahupuku, his fiancee Jessica Paine, 25, and their daughter Alaska Mahupuku, 2 1/2 weeks. Mahupuku says he has thrown himself into fatherhood.

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Firefighter Troy Mahupuku has single-handedly blown a $250,000 hole in Hutt Valley District Health Board's budget.

Mahupuku, who suffered burns to 33 per cent of his body fighting a fire at a Petone motorsport seat factory in August last year, is one of 20 high-cost hospital cases that have thwarted the board's efforts to balance its books.

Yesterday the board reported a $1.3m blowout in its budget, due largely to the unexpectedly high number of one-off cases, involving transfers to other hospitals, for which the Hutt Valley board had to meet the costs.

They included an extremely premature baby, whose treatment also cost about $250,000.

Board chief executive Graham Dyer delivered the news to a full board meeting yesterday, explaining that the number of cases could not be foreseen.

In the last financial year, there were 14 cases in which patients had to be transferred elsewhere, with a cost to the board of more than $100,000.

But in the first six months of this financial year, there had already been 20. "It's unusual - a statistical anomaly," Dyer said.

Mahupuku, 26, spent a month in Middlemore Hospital, has had 11 skin grafts, and continues with his rehabilitation.

He returned to light duties at his Avalon station in November. But he is itching to fight fires again: "I never wanted a desk job."

Daughter Alaska arrived on January 23, and he has thrown himself into fatherhood. "It's going really good. I'm taking things slow," he said.

"I'm not on full father duties because of work, but I do what I can."

His treatment in Auckland treatment cost $212,000, and his Hutt bill brought the total to about $250,000. That accounted for a fifth of the $1.3m blowout.

What hospital care he can remember through his drugged haze was first-class, he said, and he could easily believe how it had cost so much.

"I'm not really surprised. I was on morphine - that stuff couldn't be cheap. And thinking of how much surgeons get paid, there were quite a few people around every time I had surgery."

As well as the top healthcare he has received, he has also had overwhelming support from his colleagues and bosses, getting a flood of get-well cards and offers of help while he was laid up.

"It's just been fantastic."

He and fiancee Jessica Paine became engaged in November, his accident having brought them closer, he said.

"It made me realise how much she cared about me, and it heightened all the emotions."

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Board spokeswoman Jill Stringer pointed out that the $1.3m blowout represented just a quarter of 1 per cent of its turnover, and she did not believe the glut of expensive treatments indicated a trend.

The board would continue its quest to find savings across the board, she said.

A recent idea in Wairarapa was teleconferences with patients rather than face-to-face consultations at Hutt Hospital.

The top six most expensive treatments in which Hutt Hospital patients needed to be transferred to another DHB were neonatal care, neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, oncology, specialist intensive care, and renal medicine.

Burns cases were also expensive, but less common.

The board has annual revenue of $464m, including almost $382m from the Ministry of Health.

- The Dominion Post

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