Covid-19: Auckland DHBs seek to curb lockdown impacts on elective surgery

1:55 pm on 26 August 2021

Auckland's district health boards (DHBs) are trying to contain the effect of the latest Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown, having cancelled a large number of non-acute operations and procedures since last week.

Generic shot of operating table/surgery in hospital.

Auckland's DHBs have been trying to catch up on elective surgery cancelled during previous Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and earlier this year, but this week they have had to cancel more non-urgent operations due to the alert level 4 restrictions. Photo: 123RF

A spokesperson for the Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre (NRHCC) said DHBs were doing everything they could to keep patients, visitors and staff safe as they responded to the latest outbreak.

"We continue to provide essential and urgent medical care. We have full confidence in our infection prevention and control measures and in our staff to manage cases of Covid-19 safely."

In June last year it was revealed the Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) alone had deferred between 1400 and 1600 elective surgery operations due to Covid-19.

It was given a much-needed $94 million funding boost by the government in the 2020 budget to try to get on top of the problem and appeared to have been making headway, but the latest lockdown will add to the waiting lists.

A spokesperson for the NRHCC said they were unable to provide exact numbers on how many elective surgery operations had been cancelled in Auckland since the country went into alert level 4 lockdown last week.

"We don't have numbers readily available at this time as our operational teams are currently focused on managing the Covid-19 response, but, in line with national guidelines for alert level 4, all non-urgent care, including surgery and outpatient appointments have been postponed," they said.

The spokesperson said patients were being contacted directly by DHBs to reschedule appointments and they were working through this as quickly as possible as the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown restrictions changed and developed.

They said some patients had experienced delays in both surgery and outpatient appointments due to the impact of the alert level 3 and 4 lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021.

"We were running extra clinics and operating lists up until the start of the latest lockdown, and had also enlisted some private providers. Good progress was achieved and we will resume this plan as soon as possible. Patients are always prioritised according to clinical need and wait-lists are regularly reviewed."

They said it was still too early to talk about the financial impact of the latest outbreak on Auckland's DHBs.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Executive Director Ian Powell.

Health commentator Dr Ian Powell Photo: Supplied

Health commentator and former Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Ian Powell said the cancellation of elective surgery operations was an inevitable consequence of lockdown.

"I'm surprised they didn't have data on how many operations have been cancelled, but maybe it's too soon," Powell said.

He said the real test for DHBs would be in trying to get on top of the surgery backlog after lockdown.

"The issue will be getting the medical staff and nursing staff to carry out the catch-up operations. It will be a real logistical challenge."

Powell said there was already a nationwide shortage of about 1000 specialists. He said from elective surgery waiting lists to staffing shortages, they were all issues that the health system had before Covid-19, but the pandemic had exacerbated the problems.

Powell said there would need to be greater cooperation between the DHBs to get on top of the problem when restrictions were lifted.

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