Hospital waiting lists in govt’s sights

Dr Vanessa Thornton, Clinical Director Hospital Services at Middlemore Hospital. Photo RNZ

The Labour Government’s nationwide plan to tackle hospital waiting lists has been welcomed by Middlemore Hospital.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced hospital waiting lists will be managed nationally under Labour’s plan to cut the time people who need operations and appointments have to wait.

“Covid-19 has been hugely disruptive to hospital systems all over the world,” Little told health users, providers and unions in Auckland.

“In England, for example, there was a 200-fold increase in the number of people waiting for planned care for more than a year, from just over 1600 in February 2020, to more than 300,000 in November 2021.

“New Zealand has done better than most countries. Our elimination strategy not only prevented tens of thousands of deaths, it also protected our health system from being over-run, as we saw happen in countries like Italy and the United States.”

The Delta variant and Omicron wave had put pressure on hospitals, Little said.

The number of people waiting longer than four months for their first appointments with hospital specialists had doubled because of the pandemic, and the number of people waiting longer than four months for treatment had more than trebled.

“For people who need these procedures and appointments, having to wait is distressing,” said Little.

“Now, with the benefit of having one of the most highly-vaccinated populations in the world and with a suite of new medicines available to treat Covid-19 patients and keep many of them out of hospital, we can start managing on a more business-as-usual basis.”

Dr Vanessa Thornton, Clinical Director Hospital Services at Middlemore Hospital, sees the plan as positive.

“We are supportive of a focused and deliberate approach to address the challenges of planned care throughout New Zealand,” Thornton told the Times.

“A national approach will help capitalise on regional successes that could be scaled up to benefit more people,” Thornton said.

“The pressures on the health system are not new and deferring non-time-critical surgery or clinics is a lever we use to manage demand on our system at peak times like winter flu season and most recently during the Covid-19 Omicron surge.”

The Government’s waiting list response is being led by interim Health New Zealand and the interim Māori Health Authority.

These organisations will become permanent entities when the Government’s health reforms come into effect July 1.