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Counties Manukau DHB Battles Surgery Backlog

Counties Manukau Health says it had to defer between 1400 and 1600 elective surgery operations due to Covid-19 and it is now looking at reducing the backlog with the much needed funding boost it received in last month’s budget.

But according to the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), the professional association and union which represents the country’s doctors, it will take years to cut waiting lists.

A spokesperson for Counties Manukau DHB said it received an additional $94 million in funding in the budget for 2020/2021, taking its overall funding for the year to $1.6 billion.

“In addition to the 2020/21 planned care funding, the government has allocated $282.5 million over three years to address planned care wait lists, including those impacted by Covid-19.

“The Ministry is developing a policy for accessing the additional funding and will advise DHBs early in the 2020/21 financial year.”

But the DHB spokesperson confirmed that estimates show between 1400-1600 elective surgeries were deferred at CM Health due to its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report to the Counties Manukau DHB’s combined committee in April said its non-acute elective services would be severely impacted by the coronavirus and it would take some time for them to recover.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton said the situation faced by Counties Manukau Health is unfortunately part of a nationwide problem.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” she said.

Dalton said the extra government funding for DHBs like Counties Manukau in last month’s budget would no doubt be welcome and would help them deal with their elective surgery backlog.

“But it’s going to take them a while to catch up and there’s a limit on what they can actually do,” she said.

“Some DHBs are looking at running twilight theatres and that’s fine. But a lot of our full time members already work more than 40 hours a week and there’s only so many hours people are willing to, or can, safely work.”

And Dalton said it’s not just about having enough surgeons. DHBs will also have to ensure they have the nurses, theatre technicians and cleaners to help with the increased workload, as well as enough bed space.

“People need to appreciate that we already have a struggling health system.”

Dalton said New Zealand didn't have enough senior doctors before the pandemic to deal with regular patient load and nothing has changed.

“You don't magic up senior doctors and dentists overnight. The health system will absolutely not be able to relieve the backlog in a year. No way in the world.”

Last month she said after a decade of under-funding healthcare many hospitals were faced with decaying buildings, worsening waiting lists and access to healthcare, along with staffing shortages and burnt out work forces. And it would take more than one budget to turn that around.

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