30 Oct 2013

Patients 'living in pain' as more miss out on surgery

8:44 pm on 30 October 2013

Orthopaedic surgeons say some patients are in living in pain and face selling their home to get the hip and knee replacement surgery they need.

They want the Ministry of Health to acknowledge that there are areas in New Zealand where needs are not being met.

Gary Hooper, a senior orthopaedic surgeon in Christchurch, says funding for more hip and knee operations was increased several years ago but is now failing to keep pace with the needs of an ageing population.

He says the demand is outstripping increased funding for the operations and it is becoming harder for patients, who meet the clinical threshold to get onto a waiting list for surgery, as district health boards only list those they can operate on within a four-month timeframe.

Professor Hooper says he knows of patients in constant pain, or having to re-mortgage their houses to raise the funds to get surgery privately, because they can't get on public hospital waiting lists.

"The problem is going to get significantly worse in the future and if we don't keep on top of it, then we're going to have a disaster within the health system with the treatment of these patients."

Professor Hooper is supported by other surgeons and the Orthopaedic Association, which says 73 patients a year in Dunedin are not getting the necessary surgery and there could be 40 or 50 in other DHB areas.

Geoffrey Horne, a Wellington orthopaedic surgeon and former president of the association, says the Government should reconsider whether hip and knee operations are being given high enough priority, as some patients in need are missing out.

"I think the Government needs to look at their priorities again in terms of the costs (to) the community. We published on that some years ago now, but it does show that if you wait longer than six months, the cost to the country is greater than the cost of doing the operation."

David Gwynne-Jones, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Otago, says operations were boosted after 2007, but this appears to have tapered off since an Orthopaedic Joint Replacement Initiative ended several years ago.

"The demand is rising year on year and currently in my practice we're not able to keep up with the demand that we're seeing."

The Ministry of Health says the Government has invested significantly in increasing rates of elective surgery.