For the first time in a decade, the annual number of elective surgeries performed in New Zealand has dropped. Figures released by the Ministry of Health reveal there were almost 6000 fewer elective surgeries – procedures booked in advance as they are not an emergency – in the 2018/19 year compared to the same period the year before.
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National leader Simon Bridges says this is not good enough and shows many New Zealanders are missing out on the care they need.
They are people like Southland man Michael Fotheringham, who told the Herald on Sunday he has been waiting for two years to get a hip replacement, but has been unable to get a surgery date.
Or Taranaki-based Carrie Hanford, who has been on a surgery waitlist for a stent procedure for her blocked coronary arteries.
The elective surgery numbers were provided to National through written questions.
They show there were 143,700 over the 2018/19 period, compared to 149,500 the year before.
Health Minister David Clark said it was unfortunate National was focusing on a narrow measure of activity for "political reasons".
He pointed out the number of minor procedures in the 2018/19 year were up close to 8500 on the year before.
He added that, for the first time ever, the number of discharges from our hospitals had topped one million.
But, in his statement to the Herald on Sunday, Clark did not explain why the number of elective surgeries was down.
Speaking to the Herald on Sunday, Fotheringham said he was upset with the healthcare system in New Zealand for making him wait so long for his surgery.
"I just want my bloody hip fixed so I can save my job."
He is no longer able to operate the forklift or heavy machinery at his job and has been confined to a control room.
"My whole job is in jeopardy. They're not going to pay me the money they pay me now to sit in a control room for the rest of my life."
Hanford is also upset saying her "whole life has been put on hold" while she waits for her procedure.
She said she was constantly out of breath because of her clogged arteries.
"I hang out the washing and then it takes me two hours to get my breath back again."
The stent procedure – inserting a small mesh tube into the clogged arteries to allow for the better passage of blood – was a relatively quick procedure, she said, and would help her immensely.
"I could get back to work; I do volunteer work for the Salvation Army and am also a relief manager at the shop where I live."
Bridges said the fact elective surgery numbers were down was "entirely predictable".
"David Clark removed health targets at the first opportunity he got and after two years in Government, he still hasn't replaced them.
"Now, the Government has said it won't publish elective surgery data online any more.
"Kiwis deserve to know how their DHBs are performing."
In his statement, Clark did not explain why the data would no longer be published online.
But he said New Zealand's health service had delivered more care for more people than ever before.
"I'm pleased that as part of that we're seeing more procedures such as Avastin injections [to slow vision loss] performed in more appropriate non-surgical settings."
He said this might not add to the electives total, but it made a real difference to New Zealanders' quality of life.
"All of this is reflected in the fact that for the first time ever the number of discharges from our hospitals has topped one million – to be precise 1,005,208 discharges in 2018/19."