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NZ lagging way behind in heart surgery

Tony Ryall MP
National Party Health Spokesman
1 September 2008

NZ lagging way behind in heart surgery

New Zealanders’ chances of getting life-saving heart surgery are significantly lower than comparable countries, according to a draft Ministry of Health report obtained by the National Party.

"The report says some heart patients die because New Zealand is not providing ‘clinically acceptable’ levels of heart surgery," says National’s Health spokesman, Tony Ryall.

According to the report, ‘waiting times for publicly funded cardiac surgery have been reduced to clinically acceptable levels in all [comparable] countries but not in New Zealand’.

In England, patients have a 30% higher likelihood of getting heart surgery compared to New Zealand. Canadians have a 75% higher likelihood. New Zealand is well behind Australia, according to other reports.

The ‘Review of Cardiac Surgery Services in New Zealand’ was commissioned because of ‘ongoing concerns’ about lower levels of surgery in most regions compared to Otago/Southland and comparative countries. Last week Capital and Coast District Health Board said its waiting list was so bad that up to 50 patients will be sent to Australia for treatment. The situation will only get worse with the diabetes epidemic.

"The report makes it clear that access to heart surgery in New Zealand depends more on your postcode than how sick you are. It details substantial increases in surgery needed at cardiac centres like Waikato and Wellington in order to provide the same level of service as Dunedin. This problem is not isolated to Wellington alone. Patients in Waikato have only two-thirds the access of patients in Dunedin. Aucklanders have 20% less access than Dunedin.

"Behind this crisis are growing shortages of ICU nurses and anaesthetic staff. Massive ICU nurse vacancies in Auckland have led to many surgeries being cancelled, and Wellington has insufficient anaesthetists,” says Mr Ryall.

"This trend has been obvious for ages. Labour was told in an official report of December 2003 about the appalling levels of heart surgery in New Zealand but has done little about it. You have to be much sicker to qualify for heart surgery in New Zealand than Australia.

"The draft report points to some sensible solutions in line with National's thinking: doctors and nurses taking a greater leadership role, clinical networks, and national thresholds for surgery. But the only way to build a long-lasting increase in heart surgery is through smart co-operation between the public and private hospitals, and to tackle the workforce crisis with, for example, student-loan write-offs. National has set out proposals for this in its 50 -page health discussion paper."


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