31 Aug 2008

Plan to send heart patients to Australia criticised

9:59 pm on 31 August 2008

A private hospital is questioning the need to send people to Australia for urgent cardiac surgery.

The Capital & Coast District Health Board is to send up to 50 heart patients from Wellington to Sydney for treatment they cannot get in New Zealand.

The DHB says it is a one-off measure needed to cope with a backlog of high-priority patients over the next three months. Initially, it is looking to send up to 10 patients, the first of whom will go to a private hospital in Sydney this week.

Capital & Coast says the patients will have to be medically fit to travel, but it will be up to them whether they go. The DHB will meet travel and accommodation costs for two weeks for patients and a support person each, but will not say what that will cost for commercial reasons.

It says it began contracting out two years ago to reduce a growing backlog, but despite some success, it still has 25 patients needing surgery who have waited more than six months.

Wakefield Health chief executive Andrew Blair says the DHB's move is disappointing and avoidable.

Mr Blair says Wakefield would have been able to increase its capacity if the DHB had consulted with private providers and given some certainty around the volumes of surgery.

However, Capital & Coast says private hospitals were unable to carry out the operations at short notice. It says it will talk to private providers in the future.

Mr Blair says Wakefield received a contract from Capital & Coast on Thursday to perform 20 cardiac procedures.