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Lengthy time off work for sick and caregivers costly

December 29, 2013

Lengthy time off work for sick and caregivers costly to country

An average of five weeks per person is being lost from the workforce as a result of surgical waiting list back-ups, a new survey has found.

Many thousands of New Zealanders waiting for surgery are having to take extended time off work, and also need loved ones to do the same so they can take care of them, according to research by the Health Funds Association (HFANZ) and the Private Surgical Hospitals Association (NZPSHA).

The research – the largest of its kind conducted in the country - found 280,000 New Zealanders currently needed elective surgery, 170,000 of whom had not even been placed on a waiting list. The average waiting time from GP referral to surgery in the public system was upward of 224 days.

Of those adults waiting for surgery in the public system, 25 percent said they had taken an average of 5.1 weeks off work.

HFANZ chief executive Roger Styles said that meant most people would have to use up all their sick leave and annual leave entitlements because of one fixable condition.

“Many would have to take unpaid leave from work, affecting personal finances, workplace productivity and placing greater stress and workload on colleagues.”

More than a third had required care or assistance during their wait for surgery. The study said for every week spent waiting following a GP referral, the patient required one hour of assistance.

Twenty-four percent had required unpaid care or assistance for an average of 18.2 weeks at 4.7 hours a week. Ten percent received publicly funded help of 2.7 hours a week for 16.9 weeks on average, and 5 percent paid for a caregiver themselves, averaging 3.3 hours a week for a huge 28.1 weeks.

“A lot of this unpaid care is provided by family members, who must themselves take time off work to look after their sick relative. The flow-on effect throughout the New Zealand economy is huge,” 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.

Almost a third of those needing surgery reported experiencing significant pain and said they had had to make lifestyle changes. More than half said their quality of life had worsened, mainly due to pain and mobility issues but also due to the psychological and financial stress of their ongoing illness.

Mr Brooks said this issue needed to be made a priority for political parties as they headed into election year, particularly given the rapidly ageing population.

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

ENDS

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