19 Sep 2017

DHBs critically underfunded, opposition parties say

From Checkpoint, 5:38 pm on 19 September 2017

A Dunedin man whose prostate cancer spread after he waited 10 months for urgent surgery has been failed by an underfunded health system, say opposition parties.

Stephen Hoffman told Checkpoint yesterday his GP referred him as an urgent case to Dunedin Hospital in September last year.

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He had classic symptoms of prostate cancer, a family history, an abnormal DRE, a rock hard prostate and progressive urinary discomfort.

But instead of having surgery within the Ministry of Health's six week guideline, the 62-year-old waited 10 months and the cancer has now spread to his rectum.

Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party said today that Mr Hoffman's case - which was just one of several similar cases at the Southern District Health Board - was the sad consequence of a DHB which has been critically underfunded.

When asked about Mr Hoffman's situation today, National Leader Bill English said while his situation was unacceptable, it highlighted long-standing issues within the Southern DHB's urology department.

"Of course it's the obligation of the DHBs to make sure - where there is any evidence that it's less than a world-class service - that they're taking action to change it.

"This is a big system, it's seven or eight percent of the whole economy, it's bigger than the dairy industry, and at any given time, there will be pressure points in it and we expect the DHBs to deal with those effectively."

However, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said DHBs had been underfunded by $2.3 billion and Mr Hoffman's story was a sad consequence of that.

"Some of the stories that we've seen coming out of the southern DHB in particular really are staggering.

"I think there would be an expectation in New Zealand that you would, once you are diagnosed, get the health care you need. The fact that this is not happening speaks to the drift we've had in healthcare, and the need for action."

The Southern DHB's Chief Medical Officer of Health Nigel Millar conceded to Checkpoint last night Mr Hoffman was not alone, with other men in a similar situation.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters said the government had made Mr Millar the fall guy for long-term underfunding.

"The saddest thing there was the head of the DHB, who is obviously a decent, honest person, trying to explain away why somebody waited 10 months for something that should have taken a maximum of six weeks.

"As a consequence, he's got a truncated life to look forward to, and frankly, we are down dramatically in health funding in this country."

Green Party leader James Shaw said waiting times were unacceptable.

"They are, at the very least, life threatening and I know people have had their life expectancy cut because of the length of the waiting time."

Mr Hoffman said he was now incontinent and had been told his prognosis was not good. He's been given five years, but was yet to receive an apology from the Southern DHB, he said.

Checkpoint asked the Southern DHB today when changes would be made to staffing and theatre resourcing within the urology department and if they could clarify if hundreds of urology patients were currently sitting outside the Ministry's guidelines and waiting longer than they should for treatment. 

Late this afternoon the DHB responded, saying the request was being treated as an Official Information Act request.