Recruitment key to reducing ‘significant’ waiting lists, Northland DHB says – Stuff

A health board which admits it faces significant challenges with its growing waiting lists says staff recruitment is critical to cutting waiting times.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced on Wednesday a nationwide taskforce to tackle hospital waiting lists, led by interim Health New Zealand and the interim Mori Health Authority.

The organisations will become permanent entities when the Governments health reforms come into effect on July 1, tackling the postcode lottery of district health boards, he said.


Health Minister Andrew Little says he wants to end the postcode lottery of district health board, by creating a nationwide taskforce to focus on cutting waiting lists. (File photo)

The plan could have a big impact in Northland, where wait times have been growing, and patients wait up to five times longer than patients in Auckland District Health Boards area.

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In the 12 months to February 2022, Northland women in need of a hysterectomy waited an average of 486 days to see a specialist and have surgery four times longer than in Auckland and more than twice as long as five years ago.

Denise Piper/Stuff

Whangrei Hospital is often busy with an overflowing emergency department, and has only had one increase in surgical theatres in more than 30 years. (File photo)

Women needing breast reconstruction waited 821 days more than two years to see a specialist and have surgery, nearly five times as long as in Auckland and twice as long as five years ago.

Northland general manager of surgical and support services Mark McGinley said the challenges with growing waiting lists, both locally and nationally, are significant.

The health board welcomes the additional focus and support the nationwide taskforce will bring, he said, but there is still a lot of work to do before the change to a national waiting list benefits Northland patients.

We would always welcome more funding to support improvement, but it needs to be targeted in the right areas with sustainable service provision.

Critical to improving waiting list times is recruitment of medical, nursing, technical and allied health staff, McGinley said.

The current environment for recruitment is challenging, with international candidates taking much longer to start than they did prior to the Covid pandemic.

Denise Piper/Stuff

Mangawhai resident Brian Callinan, 83, is waiting for a hip replacement with his severely arthritic hip leaving him confined to a chair and reliant on pain medication.

McGinley said some of the impediments to Northlanders receiving surgery as quickly as in other areas include a lack of surgical capacity, with new theatres opening at Whangrei Hospital in 2021 being the first increase in more than 30 years.

The region also has only a small number of private options and a lack of capacity at Whangrei Hospital, which is often full, driven by population growth above forecast, he said.

The call to focus on recruitment has also been made by Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton, who said some clinicians have left New Zealand to find better pay and conditions overseas.


Brian Callinans daughter, Corinne Callinan, wants to see waiting lists improve in Northland, and has contacted Health Minister Andrew Little directly. (File photo)

The daughter of a Northland man awaiting hip surgery, Corinne Callinan, also said recruitment incentives are essential to attract highly trained staff to Northland.

She hoped the taskforce would focus on staff retention including addressing the pay gap with Australia but she questioned why it wasnt set up in March 2020, when the pandemic started.

Corinne Callinans father, 83-year-old Brian Callinan, is virtually confined to a chair due to pain from a severely arthritic hip, but was told in February the surgery will be 12 months away.

His family fears with the delays caused by Covid-19, the wait could now be even longer.

Dad continues to be in excruciating pain and its deeply upsetting to see him losing weight, muscle, fitness and hope, Corinne Callinan said.

Disappointment other her fathers treatment led her to investigate waiting times in Northland, and write to Andrew Little to suggest the Northland District Health Boards governance be sacked.

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Recruitment key to reducing 'significant' waiting lists, Northland DHB says - Stuff

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