The number of people waiting more than a year for surgery has been dramatically reduced in some regions over the last year, Te Whatu Ora’s latest report card shows.
In Auckland and Northland, some wait lists have been slashed by more than half after a series of initiatives were introduced to reduce backlogs which built up during the Covid pandemic.
Health NZ - Te Whatu Ora’s performance data, which covers the year to June, showed many key areas were still tracking in the wrong direction.
The number of children under five who were hospitalised for conditions which should have been addressed in primary care (pneumonia or gastroenteritis) rose by 35 per cent across the country.
More young people were waiting longer for mental health treatment, more patients were waiting longer for their first specialist assessments and cancer treatment, and more people were staying longer in emergency departments.
“Across all metrics, we haven’t seen the improvements we would have liked to have seen,” said Te Whatu Ora chief clinical officer Dr Richard Sullivan.
“We are seeing across the whole board a significant number of presentations into our EDs and … on surgical waitlists. As we’ve come out of Covid and we saw a big drop in presentations through those spaces we are now starting to see people seeking healthcare.”
On the positive side, immunisation rates are creeping up again after plummeting during the pandemic. Just over 83 per cent of two-year-olds were vaccinated, with officials aiming for 90 per cent coverage.
In a sign that the new health reforms may be getting some traction, progress was being made on reducing the longest surgical wait lists.
Planned care, or elective surgery, has been one of Te Whatu Ora’s top priorities since it was established last year.
A task force on planned care came up with 100 recommendations to reduce wait lists last year, many of which have been implemented. They included moving surgical teams across regional sites to utilise available theatre capacity and outsourcing some work to the private sector.
The latest data, covering the year to June, showed the number of people waiting more than a year had been cut by 70 per cent in Auckland and Waitemata, and 60 per cent in Northland.
Progress was uneven, however. In the Canterbury region, the number of people waiting more than a year had risen sharply. This was despite the region increasing its surgical theatre capacity from 12 to 24 over this period.
Dr Sullivan said this because of a huge rise in referrals from GPs.
“It is the presentations, the increasing demand we are seeing. I can confidently say we will start to get the cut-through, we will start to see the dials change … through 2024.”
While the “long waiters” have fallen, the number of people waiting more than four months for treatment has risen steadily.
The incoming National Government has promised to reinstate national health targets for some of these key areas, including surgical waitlists, immunisations, specialist wait times and ED wait times.
Isaac Davison is an Auckland-based reporter who covers health issues. He joined the Herald in 2008 and has previously covered the environment, politics, and social issues.