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280,000 New Zealanders wait for public surgery

December 9, 2013


280,000 New Zealanders wait for public surgery, private sector wants broader debate on future health funding

An estimated 280,000 New Zealanders currently need elective surgery, with 170,000 of these not even making the waiting list, according to research released today by the Health Funds Association (HFANZ) and the Private Surgical Hospitals Association (NZPSHA).

The survey, conducted by TNS in September this year, involved 1830 people and has a margin of error of 2.3 percent.

This research is the first glimpse into unmet elective surgical need in over a decade, and shows this unmet need is eclipsing the public sector’s capacity to meet it. When official waiting lists were disbanded a decade ago, there were 50,000 officially waiting.

“While both public and private elective surgery has increased over the past decade, elective need has clearly been growing much faster as the population ages,” HFANZ chief executive Roger Styles said.

“The 280,000 waiting on both the official waiting list and the ‘hidden’ list are virtually all public patients because of public rationing. There is no real private waiting list, as private patients are seen promptly. The private and public outcomes are hugely different because of this.

“For those who have had surgery, the average public wait was 100 days more than private,” he said.

“More alarming is the time delay for those who have not yet had surgery – an average 224 days from their first GP referral and counting,” Mr Styles said.

NZPSHA President Greg Brooks said the survey showed too many New Zealanders were experiencing a poorer quality of life due to problems accessing elective surgery. He said fixing this must be a key priority for government and the broader health sector going forward.

“As well as the human cost, the survey also points to a huge economic cost to the country in the form of lost productivity from illness and absenteeism,” Mr Brooks said.

Despite the size of the figures, both Mr Styles and Mr Brooks cautioned against simplistic answers – such as throwing more public money at a few thousand more elective operations – saying that approach might actually be part of the problem.

“That’s what we’ve been doing the past few years and the problem has been getting worse not better. It is sending completely the wrong signal to people about the future of the health system, and the scale of public cutbacks and savings which are looming over the next decade or two,” Mr Styles said.

“All available information says future public health spending is unsustainable under present policy settings. There are options to address this, but the longer the problems are ignored, the less effective and less palatable the solutions become,” he said.

Both HFANZ and NZPSHA are instead calling for greater public/private dialogue around planning for future health funding in New Zealand, saying that a more collaborative approach is required to lift health outcomes.

Both Mr Styles and Mr Brooks said the private sector would be more proactively engaging the public sector and broader stakeholders over 2014.

HFANZ and NZPSHA also want to see greater acknowledgement of the valuable contribution the private sector makes to overall healthcare needs in New Zealand, with around half of elective surgery privately funded, and insurers funding nearly a billion dollars annually in claims – mostly for surgery.

The private health sector is also calling on the Government to implement regular monitoring and reporting of the level of unmet surgical need in New Zealand, to better inform future policymaking.


An executive summary of the report can be found here:

The full report can be downloaded here:

© Scoop Media

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