Close to a thousand planned surgeries are being cancelled every week in New Zealand with nearly a quarter of those being at Middlemore Hospital, data shows.
The figures, provided by National health spokesman Shane Reti, are from all district health boards and show thousands of testing procedures and appointments have also been cancelled.
"Answers to my questions to the Minister of Health show that, in the first six weeks of the current outbreak, 1000 operations were cancelled per week, along with 1500 testing procedures and 6000 specialist appointments," Reti said.
South Auckland's Counties Manukau DHB was the hardest hit, followed by Auckland DHB. The West Coast DHB was the least affected. Lakes DHB, which covers Rotorua and Taupō, was the second least affected.
Reti has slammed the Government, saying the cancellations were due to the lack of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
However, Health Minister Andrew Little rejected this, saying the number of deferred surgeries had nothing to do with the number of ICU beds,
Reti today said: "Had there been better ICU capacity everywhere, surge management of the health system under lockdown might not be costing 1000 surgeries per week."
Earlier rapid antigen testing at Middlemore could have also reduced the number of cancellations in South Auckland – an area already suffering from significant health inequities, Reti said.
"People awaiting cancer treatment, or hip surgery, for example, are now left in limbo for an unknown period because Little is more interested in funding expensive private consultants in Wellington instead of funding ICU beds," Reti said.
He said Little should immediately stop funding consultants to the tune of some $7 million to date for his restructuring vanity project and start providing the health services New Zealanders need right here and now.
It comes after Little last week insisted there had been an increase in the country's number of ICU beds.
Little clarified that what he said last week was that in addition to the 243 beds we call ICU beds, extra beds could be made available for ICU-level care.
"These are staffed by surge-trained nurses under supervision, and district health boards advise that this lifts the number of beds available to 320-340."
The Health Minister said lockdowns did disrupt planned care and district health boards have had to postpone procedures, but it was not related to ICU beds, and it is wrong to say it is.
"The Ministry of Health is working with district health boards now to develop catch-up plans for care that has had to be postponed during the lockdown," Little said.
Last week ICU capacity nationwide hovered had 65 to 70 per cent, while total hospital utilisation sat around 80 to 85 per cent.
"So there is some spare capacity," Little said last week.
He said in the coming months people with Covid-19 could be assured that they would be cared for.
In response, one Wellington doctor rejected the Health Minister's comments that there had been an increase in the number of ICU beds.
Capital and Coast DHB ICU specialist Dr Paul Young said on Twitter last week: "I challenge you to visit any ICU in the country and find one clinician (just one) who can show their newly staffed beds."