New Zealand’s healthcare system needs improvement


 

Dr Malini Yugendran
3 February 2023

The New Zealand healthcare system finds it challenging to give its patients quick access to medical services. A significant number of patients are waiting for more than four months to a year or more for treatments and surgeries or are facing long wait times in the emergency department (ED).

By analysing data from the National Performance Reporting Metrics of December 2022, which were gathered via the National Booking System Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Qlik App, this article will explicate the scope of the issue.

More Than Four Month Wait Period

According to the data, one in four patients in New Zealand is facing an average waiting period of over four months for their First Specialists Appointment (FSA) – this excludes dental treatments.

The national total shows that the number of patients waiting for FSA has increased from 35,779 in January 2022 to 38,051 by October 2022. The “Te Manawa Taki” region is the most affected with 9089 patients waiting more than four months for FSA, while the “Central” region has 4719 patients.

The KPI Qlik App also highlights the number and percentage of patients who were given a commitment to treatment but have not received it within the specified four months.

Long waiting times for elective surgeries. (Photo: Unsplash)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In October 2022, the national percentage of patients who did not receive treatment within four months of receiving a commitment was 42%, affecting a total of 29899 patients.

Keerthi (name changed to provide confidentiality) who needs an ultrasound scan for a lump on her breast said, “I went to my GP and had to wait for two weeks before DHB sent me an email stating that I have to wait some more- between two weeks to 12 weeks for a scan. You expect better diagnostic tests in a country like New Zealand.”

More Than a Year of Waiting

There were consistently more patients in New Zealand waiting for planned care in public hospitals for more than 365 days from January through October of 2022. In January, there were 2,215 people, or 2% of all patients, on wait lists for planned care; by October, there were 3,529 patients on these lists. A similar pattern is seen in the data for elective surgery patients who have been waiting longer than 15 months:  2,548 in January to 5,498 in October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emergency Department

The data shows a decline in six-hour performance from the beginning of 2022, indicating increased pressure on the entire health system. It is important to note that ED measure excludes patients who do not wait for treatment, as well as GP referrals assessed at the ED triage desk but directed to another unit without further ED intervention.

Maya (name changed to provide confidentiality) said, “I had a miscarriage and went to the Hospital. I had to wait six hours before I was reeled into surgery. You know how it is in New Zealand. You have no choice but to wait.”

Unfortunately, the acceptance of substandard healthcare services indicates that it has become normalised, and people have grown to expect it.

The way forward

Te Whatu Ora’s spokesperson told Indian Newslink, “The spread of COVID-19 continues to disrupt hospital systems across the world – and more than two years into the pandemic, global health systems are still facing significant challenges in providing essential health services. New Zealand is not exempt from this trend as COVID-19 continues to stretch capacity for our own healthcare system and we continue to experience pressure due to sustained high levels of acute demand.”

Te Whatu Ora aims to expand its healthcare workforce with the inclusion of a diverse range of professionals, including nurses, midwives, kaiāwhina, medical specialists, and allied professionals.

Dr Meenal Lakshmanan, a general practitioner with Mt Roskill Medical Centre. said, “the government should allocate more funding towards private specialists to allow patients to access appointments more quickly. The current long wait times at government hospitals are a hindrance for patients. Only those with insurance are able to receive faster scans and specialist appointments.”

She also recommended that general practitioners in New Zealand should receive training for performing reversible contraceptive procedures and endometrial biopsies. This, she said, would result in a larger pool of doctors providing these services and reduce wait times for these patients.

Dr Meenal Lakshmanan of Mt Roskill Medical Centre (Photo: Supplied)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Te Whatu ora spokesperson said, “Nursing is a particular area of focus for us, with a number of initiatives underway to grow our nursing workforce; including investments in helping overseas-trained nurses get ready to practice here, and support for nurses who want to return to practice. We are already seeing a significant impact from initiatives underway, including having received 324 applications from candidates off the back of our recently launched international recruitment campaign for health workers as of 16 January.”

Improving the healthcare system requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses both systemic and cultural factors. This includes increasing access to quality healthcare through investment in facilities and training, international staffing, technology, and relevant legislation.

The use of AI-powered speech recognition software can help reduce the administrative burden on medical staff and improve document workflows, leading to better patient care.

Addressing socioeconomic determinants of health and strengthening public health initiatives such as immunisation campaigns, disease prevention education and awareness of resources such as Telehealth, will also improve overall health outcomes.

A collaborative effort from healthcare professionals, politicians, and community members is necessary for a sustainable, equitable, and efficient healthcare system.

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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