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Untreated sleep disorders costing NZ millions

3 June 2008

Untreated sleep disorders costing NZ millions

Sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnoea, are costing millions every year according to new research says the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Australasian Sleep Association.

The recently published research shows that the total cost of obstructive sleep apnoea, where people sleep poorly because of repeated blockage of their airways, is at least $40 million a year or $419 per case per annum in lost production, medical costs and increased risk of accidents and other illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory failure.

“The ongoing under diagnosis and treatment of this condition is causing thousands of people to feel constantly tired and lethargic and puts them at risk of other serious health problems,” says TSANZ President Dr Michael Epton. “We know how to treat sleep apnoea and many other sleep disorders, but there is simply not enough money within DHB’s to pay because of capped funding in this area.”

The TSANZ says this has resulted in the extraordinary situation of DHB sleep centres with long waiting lists operating at half capacity. Specialists say there is also a lack of funding for training.

Dr Alister Neill from the University of Otago Wellington and the WellSleep Centre says: “we also clearly need improved training structures, development of services for groups with high needs and targeted research to improve clinical practice. The Ministry of Health needs to work with us to achieve this.”

Research has demonstrated that increasing obesity is linked to rising prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea not only in adults but also children. It affects at least 16,000 adults (4% of the population) and up to 2% of children. Currently most of these sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated. Prevalence is three times higher in Maori, and also higher amongst Pacific Island people and those from lower socio-economic areas.

The recently published study by Dr Helen Scott and colleagues from Massey University underscores the need for action in this area. It examined the economic burden of disease from OSA to improve information for clinical and policy decision makers. The research shows that the cost of timely diagnosis and treatment is miniscule compared to the ongoing costs of ‘business as usual’.

“Doing something about this problem is actually much more cost effective for the whole health system. It is senseless and totally uneconomic to continue as we are,” says Dr Epton.

Researchers and TSANZ are calling for urgent improvements in clinical services including: fully integrated sleep services between GPs and hospitals, better access to treatment for communities with high need, better training of health professionals, and recognition that OSA is a chronic condition that requires ongoing therapy and support.

Study: “Economic evaluation of the treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea in Aotearoa/New Zealand.” Helen M Scott, W Guy Scott, Kara Mihaere, Phillipa H Gander. Scott Economics and Sleep Wake Centre, Massey University.


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