Whangārei Hospital will start doing weekend catch-up surgery to clear a 900-strong backlog due to Covid-19.

Mark McGinley, Northland District Health Board (NDHB) general manager surgical and support services, said using Saturdays to clear the waiting-list backlog would begin in three weeks.

During alert level 4 lockdown the number of people going to hospital declined, significantly in some areas.

The additional surgery will be done in four areas - colonoscopies, breast cancer waiting lists, coronary and respiratory (with particular emphasis on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

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The extra work will be done by existing surgeons with additional private surgeons brought in.

McGinley said NDHB was working with Kensington Hospital in Whangārei around it also doing Saturday surgeries.

Patients would stay in the hospital following their surgery and be discharged on Monday after which it then dealt with its normal weekly workload.

The Government has just given $282.5 million over three years to help district health boards clear patient backlogs.

Nick Chamberlain, NDHB chief executive, said the district health board's care recovery programme to clear backlogs would not have been possible without the recent Government spending.

The board otherwise would have been faced with "rationing or blowing all of our budgets", Chamberlain said.

McGinley said twilight surgery would also be added after the weekend surgery had been put in place, this additional option still needing further development.

There were now enough theatres and anaesthetic technicians for the catch-up to begin and the board is looking at how to prioritise patients now.

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McGinley said it would be using existing waiting lists and there was no change in the level of criteria needed to qualify to be on those waiting lists.

Chamberlain also mentioned all those on the waiting lists were being considered, with particular attention paid to Māori.

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NDHB runs a specific work programme to reduce the health outcomes equity gap for Māori and Pacific people.

The district health board is trialling how Māori on the waiting list will have increased clinical priority, escalating their pathway to treatment, McGinley said.

Government-appointed NDHB board member Dr Mataroria Lyndon (Ngāti Hine/Ngāti Whatua/Ngāpuhi) said ethnicity prioritisation had to be a feature when working out who to attend to first in clearing the backlogs.

Other extra post Covid-19 lockdown demand management surgery has been happening this month.

Surgeons have been doing acute surgery on Sundays to make sure this work didn't overload planned surgery during the week.

Planned care surgery was down about 1000 in March and April. Acute surgery levels were down too with just over 200 surgeries in April.

Whangārei Hospital's April GP-referred specialist appointments plummeted with about 1300 fewer of these than normal.

NDHB was unsure how this drop would affect catch-up demand but there was potential for 1300 to 1500 extra appointments as a result of the reduced referrals. It would, however, likely play out with about 1500 clinic visits from those seeking specialist treatment.

NDHB is planning to clear a backlog of 2400 specialists' follow-up visits to cover reduced April figures.

McGinley said the hospital's Covid-19 recovery was ramping up.

From a medical and surgical outpatient perspective NDHB was by Monday expected to be back to a normal 100 per cent capacity.

"The next part is to try to get that to 110 per cent to 120 per cent of normal capacity so we can make a start on the lost ground of the last couple of months," McGinley said.

Whangārei Hospital was this week back to six operating theatres.

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