No room on surgery wait list

Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014
Maree Drumm
IN PAIN: Maree Drumm needs an operation - but can't get on the waiting list.

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She has a cyst the size of tennis ball behind her knee, and can't sleep more than three hours a night - but Maree Drumm didn't pass the pain test to get on a waiting list for surgery.

The Wellington customer services worker lives on pain medication, has a limp and is worried the cyst, tears in her knee cartilage and osteo-arthritis could lead to a permanent deformity.

She went to her doctor in May last year, and saw an orthopaedic specialist at Wellington Hospital in January, who told her arthroscopy surgery was the best option.

But six weeks later Drumm, 51, was aghast to receive a letter saying she had not met the "level of need" for an operation. She was told by the hospital that she scored 60/100 on a needs test - just short of the 64 that would have put her on the waiting list.

"I was absolutely gutted," she said. "I can't afford to go private . . . basically this just puts me right back at the beginning."

Yesterday she went to see her doctor for a referral back to Wellington Hospital.

Drumm is not alone, with doctors saying getting on to a waiting list is a growing challenge, with patients forced to meet "pain thresholds" before hospitals will offer procedures.

Health Minister Tony Ryall's national health target is for no patient to wait on an elective surgery list for more than five months.

But Medical Association chairman Mark Peterson said patients who needed surgery were being told they did not qualify.

"It's frustrating for surgeons, it's frustrating for GPs - surgeons are basically saying 'Yes, you need surgery,' but are unable to provide it," Peterson said.

The issue was "across the board", with pressure points in orthopaedic surgery and ear, nose and throat surgery for children.

Research commissioned by the Health Funds Association of New Zealand found 280,000 people were told last year they needed elective surgery, but 170,000 of them were not on a waiting list.

Ryall disagreed, saying the research was "designed to meet their own requirements". However, the ministry would begin to measure "referred need" from July.

The best answer was more elective surgeries, which the Government was already doing, he said.

Some patient prioritisation always happened.

"These decisions are made by clinicians within the funding that they've got, so they are always going to prioritise patients . . . What the Government wants to make sure is that more people are being seen to get their operation."

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About 40,000 more surgeries were being performed each year than five years ago, with an extra $10 million put into elective surgery in January, he said.

About $1.25m of this would go to the Wellington region, and is expected to fund an extra 218 surgeries.

- The Dominion Post


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