Lost medical gear drains DHBs

By Chloe Johnson

Patients make off with hospital equipment including heart monitors, loo seats, crutches - and electric beds

Ngaire Buchanan of Auckland DHB said missing equipment could be annoying for staff and stressful for patients. Photo / Doug Sherring
Ngaire Buchanan of Auckland DHB said missing equipment could be annoying for staff and stressful for patients. Photo / Doug Sherring

Medical equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is missing from hospitals, as people wander off with everything from heart monitors to toilet seats.

The Herald on Sunday asked each district health board to list missing medical supplies during the past five years. The missing gear includes toilet frames, electric beds, foetal heart detection monitors, treadmills and microscopes.

Over the past year, 2133 borrowed items worth $134,892 went missing from Capital Coast District Health Board, most commonly crutches worth more than $20,000.

The Auckland DHB had 89 reports of missing items since 2010, including 400 walking frames, 600 shower stools and 200 toilet frames which support people on the toilet.

Counties Manukau lost almost 500 breathing apparatus, 30 humidifiers, 10 electric beds and 100 blood pressure monitors. Director of hospital services Jenni Coles said items were often borrowed by patients who failed to return them, and were not stolen.

She said thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent each year to replace the missing equipment.

"It is public funds and I can guarantee the patient care is not compromised by this, but it would be better if we didn't have to replace these items so the money can be spent on other items or frontline care," Coles said. She said people might not understand the items were needed, or were not able to return the equipment easily.

Several hospitals have run successful amnesty campaigns to recover dozens of wheelchairs, walking frames and crutches - many found in riverbeds and on roadsides.

While many hospitals were able to itemise missing equipment, Waitemata DHB chief executive Dale Bramley asked the Herald on Sunday to pay more than $1,500 for a worker to check their inventory.

"It is estimated that it will take one staff member two weeks extracting and compiling data to obtain a response," he said.

The Nelson Marlborough DHB said it did not hold information on missing medical supplies or devices.

Ngaire Buchanan of Auckland DHB said missing equipment could be annoying for staff and stressful for patients. "When you have a patient ready to go home and it is delayed because something can't be found, that can be nerve-racking."

Buchanan said in 2010 the DHB adopted an "end-to-end" tracking process for equipment. "So far for 2013, we have five pieces of equipment unaccounted for."

It has also streamlined returns. "We found people often didn't know where to bring stuff back to," she said. "Now they can more or less drop it at the front door."


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