Capital DHB admits to eight unnecessary cardiac deaths

Eight people who died in 2006 and 2007 waiting for heart surgery at Wellington Hospital had avoidable delays in their care and treatment, the Health Ministry says.

Expert reviewers drew that conclusion after looking at patient records and talking to doctors and surgeons, health director-general Stephen McKernan said today.

"They found that the deaths of eight people who were waiting for cardiothoracic surgery were potentially preventable," he said in a statement.

Even one preventable death was one too many, Mr McKernan said.

"We need to make sure we learn from these incidents, and apply those lessons to the way we run our hospitals and care for patients," he said.

Health Minister David Cunliffe - who today announced a $50 million plan to lift the cardiac surgery rate by at least 25 per cent over four years - had asked for the ministry report to be done.

In February he said there were 10 heart patients on the Capital and Coast waiting list for cardiac surgery when there were three "preventable" deaths.

The Government had previously said that patients who met a treatment threshold of 50 points and had "certainty of treatment" would get their surgery within six months.

Act MP Heather Roy in February alleged that in October last year there were about 90 patients who had been told they would get surgery but had waited more than six months for their operations.

Mr Cunliffe said in February that the Wellington DHB would reduce the list of patients waiting over six months to almost zero by the end of this year.

Demand has grown at Wellington's cardiac surgery centre, with the list of people who had been waiting for more than six months peaking at 120 in July 2007.

"It has now reduced to a much more manageable 21 people waiting over six months," said the Capital and Coast chief medical officer Geoff Robinson.

Since July last year, the total number of people waiting on cardiac surgery in the central region has dropped from 304 to 151.

Dr Robinson said the system for cardiac surgery was delicately poised and could falter if there was a problem with any one of many different factors, such as the availability of skilled staff and whether there were vacant beds in the intensive care unit.

The past two years had been a very difficult time for both medical staff and patients "and we are pleased to be moving on from that situation".

A separate report issued recently said New Zealand suffered a relatively high level of heart disease, but provision of surgery was lower than in comparable countries.

And while waiting times for publicly funded cardiac surgery had reduced to clinically acceptable levels in many other countries, this had not happened in New Zealand.

The number of cardiac surgical operations declined between 2002-03 and 2006-07. The level of service patients got in Australia was 85 per cent higher than in New Zealand. Canada was 75 per cent higher and the United Kingdom was 37 per cent higher.

In August, Capital and Coast announced it planned to cut its waiting lists by sending up to 50 cardiac patients to Australia for surgery, starting with 10 patients over the first three months.


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