Hospital waiting lists will be managed nationally under the Government’s plan to cut waiting times for people needing operations and appointments, Health Minister Andrew Little said today.
Latest figures show that in March, nearly 36,000 (35,942) people had been waiting longer than four months to have their first appointment with a hospital specialist – more than twice as many people as before the COVID pandemic hit (14,787 in February 2020).
The number of people waiting longer than four months for treatment has more than trebled, from just over 8,000 (8,153) in February 2020 to nearly 27,000 (26,764) in March this year.
The Government’s waiting list response will be led by interim Health New Zealand and the interim Māori Health Authority. These organisations will become permanent entities when the Government’s health reforms come into effect July 1.
“We have an opportunity right up-front to harness one of the principal benefits of the reforms – a truly nationwide approach to the health problems that affect us all,” Minister Little said.
“With one public health system, we have the opportunity to work together to make sure people get the treatment they need, no matter which part of the country they live in.”
He said the work will be overseen by a high-powered taskforce led by Counties Manukau chief medical officer and colorectal surgeon, Andrew Connolly.
The taskforce will help hospitals take whatever short-term measures they can to reduce waiting times, and will be responsible for delivering a national plan by September.
“I expect a national review of all waiting lists and a reassessment of the situation of everyone on it.”
“I also expect the taskforce to make full use of all health resources, including those in the private sector.
“I have been told that if we try to approach this problem in the ways we have before, it could take between three to five years to clear the planned-care backlog.
“It is my expectation that we can clear the backlog in considerably less time than that,” Minister Little said.
Other members of the taskforce are:
- Professor Diana Sarfati, the chief executive of Te Aho o te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency.
- Wellington GP Dr Jeff Lowe, who chairs General Practice New Zealand.
- Auckland District Health Board funding and development manager Jo Brown.
- Canterbury District Health Board chief operating officer for networks, Dan Coward.
- Canterbury District Health Board director of nursing Brenda Close.
- Bay of Plenty DHB clinical director Linda Chalmers.
- Northland DHB general and oncoplastic breast surgeon Maxine Ronald.
- Dr Kiki Maoate, a paediatric surgeon at Canterbury DHB.
- Dr Rawiri Jansen, the clinical director of the National Hauora Coalition. Dr Jansen has been appointed to the taskforce by the Interim Māori Health Authority.
Minister Little said COVID-19 had been hugely disruption to hospital systems worldwide, with New Zealand faring better than most.
“Our elimination strategy not only prevented tens of thousands of deaths, it also protected our health system from being over-run, as we saw happen in countries like Italy and the United States,” he said.
“In fact, for most of the past two years, our hospitals have been free of COVID-19 and were able to keep functioning normally for long periods of time.”
The Delta variant and Omicron wave had, however, put pressure on hospitals, he said.
The number of people waiting longer than four months for their first appointments with hospital specialists had doubled because of the pandemic, and the number of people waiting longer than four months for treatment had more than trebled.
“For people who need these procedures and appointments, having to wait is distressing.”
“Now, with the benefit of having one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world, and with a suite of new medicines available to treat COVID-19 patients and keep many of them out of hospital, we can start managing on a more business-as-usual basis,” the Minister said.