Elective surgeries in the Bay of Plenty ground to a halt when New Zealand went into Covid-19 level 4 lockdown, leaving many not knowing how long they will have to wait for their operation. Kiri Gillespie investigates how many patients have been deferred, and just how long it will take for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board to catch up.
At least 462 elective surgeries in Tauranga and Whakatāne were deferred in the first month of lockdown in New Zealand.
Patients waiting and in pain don't yet know when surgeries will resume, or how long it will take to work through the backlog.
Elective surgeries ground to a halt throughout New Zealand due to strict lockdown rules introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19 free up hospital beds for a potential influx of infected patients.
The Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) typically performs an average of 129 elective surgeries per week, across Tauranga and Whakatāne facilities.
During alert level 4, from March 25 to April 27, the health board deferred 462 elective surgeries. It performed 445 urgent elective surgeries.
Te Puke man Nev Morgan was not one of these urgent cases.
Morgan, 66, had been booked in for surgery on his wrist just before the lockdown.
However, on March 23 he found out his surgery, scheduled for 7.30am the next day, had been deferred because of Covid-19. The lockdown started on March 25.
"I was so close to having it [the surgery]. Now, I've just got to live with this pain," he said.
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Morgan had an accident two years ago where he was pulled down a hill by a trailer. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that affected his balance. While recovering from the accident, Morgan fell over and fractured his wrist.
The impact of the fall also aggravated his existing arthritis, leaving movement in both wrists significantly limited, he said.
The pain from both wrists was daily.
"My wrists are so bad, they have to fuse them up."
Morgan said he had waited about 10 months already and was incredibly frustrated at having to wait longer.
He expected to need about 12 months of rehabilitation after the surgery, which in itself would be challenging.
"The sooner I have the operation, the sooner I go through rehabilitation, the sooner I can live my life."
Elective surgery is surgery that is not required immediately, it can be planned. In Tauranga and Whakatāne, the standard wait time for elective surgery was up to four months prior to the pandemic.
BOPDHB incident management team controller Bronwyn Anstis said the organisation acknowledged there were delays for patients waiting for surgery, as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
"We want patients to know that they remain on our wait lists and to be assured we will be in contact when we are able to give an update on the timing of their appointments."
When asked how long it could take to "catch up" on the backlog, Anstis said BOPDHB was developing a recovery plan and "at this very early stage, it is not possible to give an accurate estimate of how long it will take for the elective surgery backlog to be cleared".
A Tauranga woman, who spoke on the condition she was not identified, said she was one of "the lucky ones" who received urgent elective surgery.
The woman was now recovering at home and was "extremely grateful" for the operation, and the efforts of her GP and oncologist nurse who "were proactive on my behalf".
She encouraged people sitting on the wait list to foster a good relationship with their doctors who could advocate for them.
"The importance of that is there are a lot of older people who don't understand how the system works. They don't expect their GP to be proactive. It's not that I'm pushy but I have a very good relationship with my GP," she said.
Last month, Radio New Zealand reported up to 30,000 elective surgeries had been put off nationwide.
Private Surgical Hospitals Association president Richard Whitney said, in many cases, the surgery was still badly needed, with some people living in pain or with deteriorating health.
Around the start of the lockdown, almost all surgery was on hold to allow anaesthetists to train to work in intensive care units in case they became overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases.