OPINION: The Waikato District Health Board's website provides evidence of the importance given to meeting health targets.
A news item posted there this week is triumphantly headed "It's time to celebrate - we've sustained the acute six hour target."
The accomplishment being celebrated was that, since October 8, the board's four hospitals had performed better than the target of 95 per cent of patients being admitted, discharged or transferred from an emergency department within six hours.
Since the target's introduction nationwide in 2009, Waikato DHB has struggled to reach 95 per cent, but over the weekend of October 12-13, Waikato Hospital's emergency department maintained a 100 per cent record.
Targets were highlighted, too, in chief operating officer Jan Adams' report to the board in mid-September.
Waikato Hospital had 100 per cent occupancy over half of the month in both the acute and older persons and rehabilitation wards. This had placed significant pressure on all areas during a busy month.
Consequently, progress against the six-hour target was under pressure and access to inpatient beds was at a premium.
The same report would have alerted the board to financial issues. "Above plan activity" contributed to "an unfavourable variance" of $1 million for the month.
In the year to date, there had been $4.4m of unpaid revenue for acute surgical and medical volume above the revenue cap. Savings plans for the year were $2m behind target and, combined with the unfavourable month end position, were "in the process of active review".
At a board meeting on Wednesday, questions were raised about what has become a $2.8m blowout of Health Waikato's finances.
Board member Ewan Wilson is reported to have wondered aloud whether the Government's pressure on the board to meet its "health targets", such as the six-hour maximum wait, was contributing to the problem.
Perhaps this was political posturing. Campaigning for re-election, Mr Wilson said the WDHB is a complex business with over 6500 staff and $1.2 billion annual budget, and he had the qualifications and experience to make complex decisions.
Indeed, he is an experienced board member. Accordingly, he should have a good grasp already of the costs of lifting Health Waikato's medical performance to meet government targets.
- © Fairfax NZ News