Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Patients receive apology from Waikato Hospital over lack of follow-up care

Clytia Whyte has received an apology from Waikato District Health Board after her hysterectomy was never followed up. Picture / Natalie Akoorie
Clytia Whyte has received an apology from Waikato District Health Board after her hysterectomy was never followed up. Picture / Natalie Akoorie

Two patients have received an apology from Waikato Hospital over its failure to follow up on surgeries.

A woman who had a hysterectomy never received a follow-up check with her surgeon, despite ringing Waikato Hospital twice to ask for one.

And a teenager who underwent a highly specialised and risky spinal surgery at the hospital in December last year has not been checked by the surgeon since.

Clytia Whyte was expecting a six-week follow-up with her surgeon after the operation in May but the appointment letter never arrived.

When she rang Waikato Hospital to inquire why, she was told the gynaecological follow-up clinic was closed so that doctors could attend to new patients.

Whyte, a mother-of-one, said her life was in limbo because she still had pain and complications and she wanted advice from her surgeon including information on the results of the operation.

The 33-year-old said she was appalled at the lack of post-operative follow-up care.

"I am disgusted that my post-op care has been pushed aside so they can get new patients in. One would have thought they would get the post-ops done so we were safe."

Teen Euan Cameron was in a similar situation after a complicated eight-hour surgery. He said he didn't know if his pain level was normal, what effect the pain drug Tramadol would have on him, when to start applying for jobs or what his limitations were.

The 18-year-old was checked once by another doctor in a follow-up visit at Waikato Hospital in mid-January but since then he has been on his own.

On Thursday the Herald revealed 13 orthopaedic surgeons lambasted bosses at Waikato District Health Board for blocking them from patients needing post-operative follow-ups and repeatedly postponing some elective surgeries to meet health targets.

Waikato Hospital services executive director Brett Paradine claimed it was a miscommunication but Cameron and Whyte's cases show the situation has been ongoing.

Euan Cameron's back following surgery. The teenager has a rod and screws in his back to straighten a curve. Photo / Supplied.
Euan Cameron's back following surgery. The teenager has a rod and screws in his back to straighten a curve. Photo / Supplied.

The DHB was at risk of losing millions of dollars in health funding if it breached the Government-imposed targets including for First Specialist Assessments, where a patient must be seen within four months of being referred by their GP.

Yesterday Paradine apologised to both patients and offered Whyte a new appointment.

He said there was a problem with follow-up bookings in Women's Health earlier this year and Whyte's appointment was missed.

"The outpatients clinic is definitely not closed to follow-up appointments and we are very sorry if this is the message she received.

"We have had issues in our Women¹s Health service with delays in follow-up appointments due to a shortage of medical staff, for which we are actively recruiting.

"We wrote to GPs earlier this year to let them know that they should contact us if they had any concerns about individual patients who they felt were not being seen in a timely manner."

Cameron's Rotorua-based mother Sarah Cameron said she was surprised her son had not been checked by his surgeon Hamish Deverall since the spinal fusion operation, where a rod and screws were inserted to treat Scheuermann's disease, which causes the spine to develop a severe curve.

She said Cameron was scheduled for follow-up in March but when he rang to rearrange the appointment the teenager was told he would need to go to Wellington Hospital because he was living in the capital.

Wellington Hospital referred Cameron back to Waikato. "I've just had no luck really because it will just go back and fourth," Cameron said.

In the end Cameron had to guess the best time to begin a job because there was no way of contacting the surgeon.

"I'm out of the system. That's what it's been like for me.

"The orthopaedic surgeon himself, he seemed very genuine, very invested in what he was doing and keen to see how I was going after the operation.

"But I was prevented from seeing him. He probably does want to see me because it would be out of character for him to just think, goodbye."

Paradine said Cameron saw a registrar in his first follow-up because the surgeon was on leave.

He said records showed Cameron advised he no longer required the March 15 appointment because he had moved to Wellington.

"It is not unusual if someone moves out of the Waikato area that their follow-up care is carried out by another DHB in their local area."

There was no record of Cameron being referred back to Waikato, Paradine said.

"We apologise if there was any confusion and are very happy to talk to the patient to explain the situation, if he'd like to get in touch with us.

"It's very important that we treat the people most in need in the most timely way possible, not only with surgery and follow-up appointments but also with those who are on the waiting list to get their First Specialist Assessment."

- NZ Herald

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