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Hospital Queues Significantly Reduced

11 February 2001

Health Minister Annette King says significant improvements in delivering elective (non-urgent) treatment services has seen hospital queues drop by 56 per cent in the first quarter of the 2000/01 year.

"The figures are quite dramatic, and show how determined the Labour/Alliance Government is to fulfil one of its key pre-election pledges."

Mrs King said the figures are contained in a report released by the Ministry of Health today. The Elective Services First Quarterly Report for the period 1 July 2000 to 30 September 2000 shows that residual waiting lists dropped from 37,133 people to 16,408 people.

"That progress has to be seen as very encouraging, particularly compared to the situation in June 1996 when 89,000 people were awaiting treatment.

"Between July 1 and September 30 last year a total of 20,725 people were moved off the residual waiting lists, including 9,508 people from just two specialities, orthopaedics and general surgery."

Mrs King said some hospitals had made a significant effort to reduce the waiting lists. "At the end of the quarter Coast Health Care, Healthcare Otago, Healthcare Hawkes' Bay and Health Waikato, as they were called before they became district health boards, had zero patients on their residual waiting lists. This shows a tremendous commitment from the hospital staff.

"In cases where hospitals continue to have significant number of patients waiting longer than six months, hospital staff are working with the Ministry of Health to implement plans to improve the situation."

Mrs King said new patients were also benefiting from more efficient systems for managing elective care.

"Of the 128,154 new referrals to medical and surgical services in the first quarter, 50 percent were seen within two months. New patients are also receiving treatment quicker, with a 43 percent reduction in the first quarter in the numbers of patients waiting longer than six months for surgical inpatient treatment.

"With considerable additional funding, new systems in place, and better referral procedures, hospitals are better equipped to adopt a patient-focused approach. This trend is evident with an eight percent increase in the number of patients either booked or given certainty of treatment within six months of assessment in the first quarter.

"Regional working groups have also been set up to strengthen ties between hospital doctors and general practitioners. These groups have made huge in-roads towards improving the coordination of care and sharing of information. As a result patients are reaping the benefits of greater certainty and better continuity of care between primary and secondary services. District Health Boards will strengthen this relationship.

"Another key factor to consider is the increase in public hospital surgery figures which show there were 168,736 surgical procedures in 1999 compared to 175,473 surgical procedures in 2000. This increase will accelerate over the coming months as the extra $96-million funding which the Government injected into surgical funding in July last year takes effect.

“I am very happy with the progress that has been made in reducing the residual waiting list, but it is important to note that we still have some way to go.”

For more information, contact John Harvey (04) 471 9305, 021 461 675. The report can be seen on the Ministry's website:

Background Information

A Government strategy is in place is reduce waiting times for public hospital elective services. The four key objectives of this are:

* a maximum waiting time of six months for first specialist assessment
* all patients with a level of need which can be met within the available funding are provided surgery within six months of assessment
* delivery of a level of publicly funded service sufficient to ensure access to elective surgery before patients reach a state of unreasonable distress, ill-health and/or incapacity
* similar access to elective services, regardless of where a patient lives.

In order to achieve these objectives, various strategies are in place, including nationally consistent clinical assessment, an increase in supply of elective services, increase in capacity at public hospitals, better liaison between primary and secondary sectors and active management of the sectors' performance.

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