Demand for surgery funds outstrips supply

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2014

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People denied elective surgery are turning to the Taranaki Community Health Trust for help, but demand is starting to exceed the trust's supply of funds.

In 2010 the trust started a scheme to cover the cost of surgery for those ineligible under the public health system and who could not afford to access private healthcare, trust secretary David Showler said.

Since then more than 230 people have benefited at a cost of more than $900,000. And there are many more applications in the pipeline.

"We've been flooded. The work of the trust over the past few years has been well and truly vindicated and very much appreciated by the recipients."

However, the demand for assistance is increasing beyond the resources of the trust, he said.

"If we haven't the money to look after somebody we put them on hold until we have enough funds to continue," he said.

The trust is run by volunteers, including a GP and a surgeon, and every cent raised goes towards paying for operations.

The youngest person to benefit was a 3-year-old for tonsilitis, but most operations have been for older people on fixed incomes, many in their 80s and 90s.

When he talks to people about donating, they talk about giving money to schools and clubs, he said.

"But when you talk about an old dear in her 80s, in agony, the money seems to dry up a wee bit."

The cost of the operations ranges between $2000 and $30,000.

The biggest demand used to be for cataract operations, but now it is orthopaedic - hips, knees and shoulders, Showler said.

A lot of smaller operations have also been funded, such as hernias and varicose veins.

The trust has received grants from the TSB Community Trust, Taranaki Electricity Trust, Leo Stockwell Charitable Trust and Seniorcare Taranaki.

There is no obligation for patients to pay anything, but people often do, even if it's only $50, he said.

Over the four years, patients have contributed $78,000.

About 30 applications have been declined for one of two reasons, Showler said.

The first is if the trust considers the applicant has enough funds to cover the cost of the operation.

"We have had people with $300,000 or $400,000 in a trust fund or whatever asking for operations that cost between $3000 and $10,000. We consider they can afford to fork out to do it themselves."

And if the person applying can't provide a letter from a consultant saying the operation is necessary they will miss out.

The trust wasn't in competition with Taranaki Base Hospital, he said.

"We are just picking up the slack."

Anyone wanting to donate to the trust or wanting further information on making an application for funding, can visit the website at taranakihealthtrust.co.nz

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