26 Feb 2009

Elective surgery 'supercentres' planned

6:27 pm on 26 February 2009

Four new operating theatres to be built at Auckland's Greenlane Hospital will form the first of the elective surgery 'supercentres' planned by the Government, which wants to eventually build 20 new theatres around the country.

Mr Ryall says the centre, dedicated to elective surgery, will be up and running in Greenlane by 2011, according to the plan given to him by the three Auckland district health boards

He says it will go some way to reduce the numbers of people, estimated at up to 11,000, who may be waiting for non-urgent surgery but may potentially have been left off official waiting lists.

The Nurses Organisation says the government is currently examining how money is spent across the system and should wait until that review is finished before committing to major projects.

It says many areas of health are short of resources so work is needed to ensure money and staff are going where they're needed most.

Ian Powell, executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, says staff shortages will pose the biggest hurdle to increasing surgery numbers.

The Resident Doctors Association agrees, saying hospitals will be unable to meet the targets unless staffing and infrastructure problems are fixed.

The head of one of the three boards behind the plan for the Greenlane centre says recruitment problems will not stand in the way.

Counties Manukau District Health Board chief executive Geraint Martin says recruitment efforts will address staff shortages and the board will consider using current staff in a new way, such as using GPs to provide some services or extending the role of nurses.

Labour's health spokesperson Ruth Dyson says the big question is what will be cut in order to afford the centre as the $240 million needed comes within the existing forecast for the health budget.

Elective surgery backlog growing, say officials

Documents prepared for Mr Ryall have revealed a lag between elective surgery rates and population growth.

Mr Ryall says the population has grown by 9.6% since 2000, but the number of people seeing specialists rose by only 0.7%.

The National Party's election policy on hospital waiting lists said the number of elective surgeries needed to rise by 61%, or 72,000 discharges, by 2026.

The sector would need to process almost 3,900 more elective surgeries each year, and another 26 surgery theatres might be needed to fulfil that requirement.

Mr Ryall says that between 10,000 and 11,000 people placed in a hidden category of "planned and staged surgery" may potentially have been left off official waiting lists.

Mr Ryall says the discovery of so many patients in the category raises questions about the consistency and appropriate use of the system.