During the coronavirus lockdown non-urgent surgery was unable to be undertaken in Northland. This was mostly in response to having our hospitals ready for the predicted surge of coronavirus patients and their need for ventilators and negative pressure rooms and other resource intensive requirements.
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We are all very fortunate this did not happen and we can thank the medical teams for their actions.
I am interested in delayed surgery in Northland that now needs to be caught up and so I asked the Minister of Health.
As the table below shows, hundreds of operation slots were cancelled just in the first two weeks of March.
To cast our minds back this was close to the time we started closing our border and before we hit the peak number of cases per day, but just a two-week period nonetheless.
I am particularly concerned for delayed cancer procedures. I note that non-surgical cancer treatments such as chemotherapy were able to continue, a further testimony to the Jim Carney Cancer Treatment Centre in Whangārei.
The Cancer Society told the televised select committee, that I was on, that there could be up to 400 avoidable cancer deaths nationwide due to the impact of coronavirus on delayed treatment.
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I asked the ministry specifically about cancer treatments in Northland and they replied that as of May 20, "43 cancer patients have had delays in their surgical procedures, which include treatment and diagnosis".
Our challenge then is how we catch these patients up. I note new funding for exactly this purpose, but there remains a concern for screening programmes such as bowel, breast and cervix that have also been delayed.
In this regard I want to congratulate Northland District Health Board for starting weekend clinics and procedures to start making headway into this backlog.
There are parts of things we have done under lockdown that are now likely to be absorbed into what we do in the future, the new normal.
When we take a look at the system-wide productivity effects of undertaking elective public surgery only on weekdays, one wonders if weekend surgery for procedures might also become part of the new normal.
This is something that I know has been explored and trialled before, but maybe there is more momentum now for system and funding reconfiguration that better redistributes the benefits to where the work is actually done. A complex matter.
• Dr Shane Reti is MP for Whangārei.