More South Aucklanders are waiting more than four months for a first specialist appointment, placing an unnecessary burden on the health system, a patient advocate says.
Figures released by Te Whatu Ora to the end of September show 4711 people in Counties Manukau had waited four months or more for a first specialist assessment, up from 3671 at the same time last year.
The target is for patients to see a specialist for their first appointment within four months of being referred by their doctor.
Patient Voice Aotearoa chairman Malcolm Mulholland said the delays were “a sign of a health system in meltdown”.
“Everybody knows the quicker you can diagnose a patient the quicker they can get treatment and in the end it leads to a lower cost to the health system.
“If these cases were dealt with more promptly these people would be able to get on with their lives.”
Mulholland said it was not uncommon for patients who were waiting to see a specialist to take time off work because of their illness.
“They are also more likely to visit their GP, or a hospital emergency department because they are in pain.”
National Party health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said the Te Whatu Ora statistics were the worst he’d ever seen for Counties Manukau.
He said many of the affected patients were on the waiting list for orthopaedics, with many needing knee or hip replacements (1315). The next busiest area was ophthalmology (513), which covers eye complaints like cataracts and glaucoma.
Reti said the number of patients waiting more than four months for a first specialist assessment in Counties Manukau was a growing problem before the pandemic.
“This shows the pressure the health system is under and Te Whatu Ora Health NZ is failing,” he said.
A spokesperson from Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau acknowledged the distress cancelled appointments could have on people who were waiting for treatment.
They said since 2021, Counties Manukau had experienced two significant Covid-19 outbreaks, which had a significant impact on its community and workforce.
“These events saw many clinic appointments cancelled – due to increased patient and staff illness, as well as a desire on the part of patients to isolate to protect their whānau,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, we have responded to high acute patient demand during the 2022 winter period, seen longer lengths of stay in hospital, and managed high unplanned leave across staff groups due to sickness.”
The spokesperson said all clinical services had been affected and it had resulted in delays in less time-critical areas, such as orthopaedics.
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