7 May 2015

Surgery funding 'drop in the bucket'

6:31 pm on 7 May 2015

Doctors are dubbing the government's $98 million injection into elective surgery a dead duck.

A surgeon in scrubs and white gloves with a tray of instruments.

Examples of elective surgery include hip and knee operations, and hernia removals. Photo: 123RF

The funding was revealed in a pre-budget announcement yesterday.

Jonathan Coleman.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman Photo: RNZ

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the money would get more people the surgery they needed.

"We made a commitment around our health target on elective surgery that we do an extra 4000 a year," he said.

"So part of this budget, $48 million of the new money, is going to be over four years to support that uplift."

However, some said the funding was a drop in a bucket and would actually lead to fewer people getting the help they need.

Elective surgeries include things like hip and knee operations, and hernia removals.

The Canterbury Charity Hospital performs about 1000 such operations a year on people who can't get it done in the public system and can't afford to go private.

The hospital's chair, Philip Bagshaw, said $98m sounded like a lot but, spread over four years, would not even scratch the surface of the unmet need.

He said the government was performing more elective surgeries every year, but there were also more people needing the operations.

"We're not even catching up with the unmet need, we're falling behind year on year," he said.

"This amount of money will not even address the rate of decline - it's as simple as that."

The union for senior hospital doctors said public hospitals were creaking under the strain of increased demand due to an older, and bigger, population - and greater expectations from the government.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said clearing the backlog required more specialist surgeons to do the work - specialists, he said, New Zealand did not have.

"We need to be trending towards increasingly meeting unmet need but we don't have the workforce capacity to do that," he said.

"That requires funding [and] funding particularly focused on recruitment and retention of a sufficiently numerous specialist workforce that can meet this demand."

Mr Powell said salaries for medical specialists were low in New Zealand compared with other countries so they often left the country to earn more money.

Labour's health spokesperson, Annette King, also took aim at the funding.

She said the government's target to get everyone through the waiting list within four months was forcing DHBs to make it harder for people to get on the waiting list, and more were missing out.

Ms King said the minister's announcement was also largely nothing new.

"He is re-announcing funding that was announced by Tony Ryall for his four-year programme last year. He's added some extra, but unfortunately it is a drop in the bucket across 20 DHBs."

Ms King said it worked out to about $830,000 per DHB per year.

She, along with Dr Bagshaw and Mr Powell, said they were not scoffing at the extra funding - but that the money just was not enough to clear the waiting lists.

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