They are hardly the height of style and comfort, but up to $200,000 worth of hospital gowns and towels go missing from lower North Island hospitals each year.
More than 2600 gowns were taken, lost, or needed to be discarded from district health boards in Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, Whanganui and Taranaki.
Allied Laundry in Palmerston North supplies gowns and towels to the five health boards. The gowns cost $18.56 to replace, with its total annual bill being $48,664.32. Towels, too, have a high turnover at the hospitals - every year 6800 vanish or are discarded and, at $5.24 each, cost the health boards $35,632.
Capital & Coast and Hutt Valley district health boards spent $120,000 a year replacing gowns and towels, according to information obtained under the Official Information Act.
That figure was so much higher than neighbouring health boards because major surgeries were performed at Wellington Hospital and Hutt Hospitals, and the hospitals were generally much busier, a spokesman said.
Several operations could be funded with the money spent replacing gowns and towels, Hutt Valley District Health Board chairwoman Virginia Hope said. "It's definitely not desirable."
Some patients would have taken the gowns, but others might have been too ill to change clothes when discharged, or had their clothing cut off them in A&E, Dr Hope said.
Allied Laundry chairman Ken Foot doubted many gowns were taken maliciously. "A gown is not a particularly attractive item. Most people would be much more comfortable in their own pyjamas once they get home."
Gowns were replaced at a rate of 18 per cent a year, and 16 per cent for towels, Mr Foot said. Some were discarded after being used to mop up blood or vomit after surgery.
"Someone will decide it's just too gross to use for laundry again."
Laundry bags were sometimes mistaken for hazardous waste and destroyed, said Jeff Small, Midcentral DHB's group manager of commercial support services. It was impossible to know how many were stolen or mistakenly taken by patients, their families, or staff.
"It's such a big operation, it's difficult to know. We can only suspect."
- The Dominion Post
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