Have you had to wait for elective surgery? Tell us your story.
Email the Herald Newsdesk

Waiting times for elective surgery are between nine months and a year, not the six months required by Government policy, a highly critical report says.

The draft report by the Office of the Auditor-General indicates district health boards are actively flouting successive Governments' rules on waiting times for elective, "scheduled", services. They also fail to give adequate information to many patients about how long they will have to wait for treatment.

The Herald has obtained a copy of the 149-page "confidential" report, which assesses progress by DHBs and the Health Ministry against the strategy on reducing waiting times for elective services. Progress has been "patchy", it says.

It is understood the report will not be released in final form until May, after the ministry has commented on the draft.

The policy enshrined by the Labour Government in the 2000 strategy, continued by National, is that accepted patients receive a first specialist assessment within six months of referral. If they need medical or surgical treatment and it can be provided "within the resources available", they should be treated within a further six months.

In the draft report, Auditor-General Lyn Provost says most patients offered elective services are seen within these times. "However, it appears [DHBs] are actually working towards providing a first specialist assessment within 12 months and treatment within nine months, instead of the six months required by the strategy."

Because no information was publicly available on actual waiting times, Ms Provost's auditors sought reports on internal ministry data.

They show that in each of the five months starting in January last year, at least 11 per cent of first-specialist-assessment patients, at least 11 per cent of surgery patients, and at least 4 per cent of medical patients waited more than six months for those elective services. Last May, for instance, 6188 patients received elective surgery within two months; 2713 waited two to four months; 1502 waited four to six months; 1143 waited six to nine months; and 241 waited more than nine months, including six who waited over two years.

Health Minister Tony Ryall, who has staked his reputation partly on increasing the number of elective operations by 4000 a year on average, said last night that ministry staff had found information in the draft which was "incorrect or imprecise".

"I am advised only about 2 to 3 per cent are treated after six months and most of these are done soon after that."

THE WAITS
First specialist assessment:
* 85-89 per cent of patients seen within six months of referral.

* 11-15 per cent waited more than six months.

Elective surgery:
* 88-89 per cent treated within six months.

* 11-12 per cent waited more than six months.

Elective medical procedures:
* 91-96 per cent treated within six months.

* 4-9 per cent waited more than six months.