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Adequate time needed for outpatient appointments


For immediate use

9 March 2017

Adequate time needed for outpatient appointments

The tragic situation of a woman who wasn’t told she had cancer until it was too late raises questions about the amount of time being allocated for outpatient appointments at the Waikato District Health Board, says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

He was commenting on reports that Waikato DHB has been ordered to apologise for a woman’s death after failing to diagnose her cancer until it was too late (

Mr Powell expressed concern about the short amount of time allocated for outpatient appointments, as reported by the Health and Disability Commissioner, who also reminded Waikato DHB that the ‘busy-ness’ of doctors was no defence for an error.

“This puts doctors and other health professionals in a real bind if they have such a short time in which to discuss complex health issues with their patients,” says Mr Powell.

“Health professionals are already trying to do more with less in a tough financial environment that’s characterised by longstanding workforce shortages and high rates of burnout and stress. There are some real consequences of the failure by Government to adequately fund our public hospitals, and reducing the time available for outpatient appointments just seems foolhardy. Waikato DHB needs to take a good, hard look at this.

“We can’t rule out the possibility of this poor practice also happening in some other district health boards.

He says having enough time for quality patient-doctor interactions is an essential part of high quality health care, and referred to a series of papers on patient-centred care produced by the ASMS last year and being discussed at meetings with DHBs’ senior management teams (

He says the Government through its steadfast refusal to invest adequately in public hospitals and DHBs for their poor leadership need to take greater responsibility for the consequences of rigidity and shortfalls in the public health system.

“The Commissioner’s comments about the busy-ness of doctors being no defence for an error, while correct in one sense, are much more concerning when viewed in the light of an under-resourced health system which doctors and others are having to carry.

“The reality is that health professionals are being held to account not just for their own professional and clinical decision-making but also for the policy and funding decisions of successive governments. That’s not right, and raises questions yet again about whether New Zealand should look at regulating accountability of senior health bosses.”

Mr Powell noted a call late last year by the head of an inquiry into one of the United Kingdom’s worst hospital scandals for better regulation of health managers (


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