Peak in dialysis patients at Taranaki Base Hospital could become the norm

The view from New Plymouth man Chris Wilkes' dialysis unit at the Taranaki Base Hospital. Wilkes had been moved to the ...
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The view from New Plymouth man Chris Wilkes' dialysis unit at the Taranaki Base Hospital. Wilkes had been moved to the spare unit in a backroom, following a recent spike in acute dialysis patients.

A peak in patients needing dialysis at Taranaki Base Hospital has seen the use of a backroom spare unit. 

In recent weeks the hospital's dialysis unit has experienced a glut of patients in need of the treatment, Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) chief operations officer Gill Campbell said. 

Dialysis is an artificial replacement for lost kidney function in people with kidney failure.

While there is a steady group of patients who receive dialysis at the hospital two to three times a week, there had been a "little spike" in acute patients needing treatment, Campbell said. 

"The hospital does have a spare machine... [but use of it] doesn't happen very often." 

Health services require constant juggling to adjust to increasing and decreasing patient numbers, but Campbell said they had not identified a need to increase their current unit facilities. 

However, New Plymouth man Chris Wilkes has been left feeling the pinch of the recent peak, spending two sessions using the hospital's spare dialysis unit, located in what he called a storage area.

Wilkes said he had been left "disheartened and frustrated" by the situation but noted he had no concerns around his clinical care, other than the general hygiene of the area where his machine was set up. 

Wilkes had been waiting for three months to have an in-home dialysis unit installed, and believed the economics of it all was the reason for the delay. 

"Economics have definitely been mentioned by people who have been talking to me. They've got a contract for the machines and any extra is going to cost them," he said. 

Campbell confirmed the spare unit was separate from their other units, but in an open back area, not a storage space. 

The unit was "very rarely used" and the storage area was adjacent to where it was set up, she said.

Wilkes was the most adequate patient to be put in that area, due to the fact he had previously had an in-home dialysis unit and was trained in how to monitor his treatment, Campbell said. 

As for money issues, it was cheaper to provide in-home dialysis. 

After the initial cost of up to $10,000 to set up a patient's home for the dialysis unit, operation costs per year reach up to $55,000. 

For in-centre dialysis three times a week, it costs $80,000 year per patient, according information provided by the TDHB. 

The issue of getting an in-home unit for Wilkes was about finding a suitable unit somewhere in the country and carrying out the checks and balances, Campbell said. 

A machine in New Zealand had been earmarked for Wilkes. Staff had spoken with the unit supplier on Friday, but had not been given a timeframe of when it would be ready. 

"I understand Chris' frustration," she said. 

"It's a very unusual situation - we have a number of contracted machines and this is the first time we have gone beyond those contract means in my five or six years [overseeing the unit]."

Campbell said while the number of patients receiving dialysis in Taranaki had not increased on last year, projections were they would. 

The TDHB renal team worked in with primary care to emphasis the importance of early management of renal issues, but the hospital would assess the need to increase shifts at the renal unit or expand as the patient need increased. 

However, the current peak was not enough to warrant adding extra shifts or units, Campbell said. 

 - Stuff

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