Covid pressures lead to the cancellation of thousands of specialist appointments at Waikato Hospital
Nearly 4,000 people have not seen a medical specialist in Waikato due to Covid-19 pressures affecting the healthcare system.
Between August 15, 2021 and June 26, 2022, nearly 4,000 early specialist assessments and follow-ups have been canceled in Waikato for Covid-related reasons.
There were also 2,054 other canned outpatient appointments.
Te Whatu Ora Waikato says it has a plan to catch up and is offering additional after-hours and weekend clinics, as well as the use of facilities away from main hospital sites.
But a healthcare system expert says catching up will be extremely difficult and the overstretched healthcare system was ‘nothing short of a national scandal’.
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Waikato came in behind Manukau, Auckland, Canterbury and Waitematā counties for regions that canceled the most early assessments and specialist follow-ups because of Covid-19.
Nationally, 62,524 of those appointments were removed.
Professor Robin Gauld, co-director of the Center for Health Systems and Technology at the University of Otago, said each of these patients had illness severe enough to warrant referral to a specialist.
“It’s not without reason.”
The cancellation of these appointments has come at a huge personal cost to individuals and their families – causing stress and affecting their ability to work and lead normal and productive lives.
Patients were forced to wait and not receive treatment, which could worsen their condition.
It would also have a financial impact on many people, he said. People who could afford it were likely to give up and become deprived.
“It’s a huge cost for everyone.”
Gauld said it would be extremely difficult to make up those appointments.
He said evening and weekend clinics help but put more pressure on healthcare workers amid what had been seen as a labor crisis.
It also costs to pay staff for overtime.
The overloaded system meant patients were missing out and it put more pressure on those working in the industry – who eventually suffered burnout and left.
It was a vicious circle, Gauld said.
He said Covid-19 had affected the functioning of many systems around the world, but it was still of deep concern that the backlog of patients kept growing.
Gauld said New Zealanders had developed a resignation, slowly but surely over a generation, that the healthcare system could not cater for everyone.
“We need to make sure there is room in our hospital network for those who are most infected,” said Health Minister Andrew Little. (Video first published on February 22, 2022)
“This is nothing less than a national scandal.”
Dr Martin Mikaere, a GP at Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki in Thames, said it was frustrating to keep referring patients he was hoping to see for the first time.
“But I understand how it works.”
He said the system itself was at fault – and when patients got an appointment, it came with a good experience.
“They do a really good job there.”
A spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora Waikato said the health body had a plan to make up for the delayed procedures and was running additional clinics to do so.
The spokesperson said there were still concerns about when appointments should be cancelled.
The time between initial appointments and rescheduled procedures varied on a case-by-case basis.
Priority was given to patients with the highest clinical needs – such as diagnoses, cancer cases and urgent planned care cases, the spokesperson said.
Te Whatu Ora Waikato had response plans for hospitals and districts that included less planned care to allow resources to be prioritized for urgent and urgent cases. These were implemented during periods of high demand or when the number of staff illnesses was higher than normal.
This was carefully managed to ensure that the hospital was able to meet the needs of patients requiring the most urgent care.
The spokesperson said planned care capacity was increasing as the weather warmed and additional clinics were offered after hours and on weekends.
Facilities outside of main hospital sites were also used, such as using a private provider for additional clinical capacity for orthopedic patients.
District staff were also deployed to assist with follow-up appointments and minor procedures at rural hospitals, mobile clinics and home visits.
Te Whatu Ora Waikato was outsourcing where appropriate, not only for surgeries but also for diagnostics such as ultrasound or CT scans to further reduce patient wait times, the spokesperson said.