Middlemore’s radiology department grapples with staffing shortages and waiting list backlog

5:02 pm on 28 November 2022
In Control Room Doctor and Radiologist Discuss Diagnosis while Watching Procedure and Monitors Showing Brain Scans Results, In the Background Patient Undergoes MRI or CT Scan Procedure.

A total of 1444 patients are waiting for CT scans. File image. Photo: Gorodenkoff Productions OU / 123RF

A backlog of people waiting for CT scans at Middlemore Hospital has reached crisis levels as radiology staffing shortages and people leaving the profession impact frontline services, a union says.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Sarah Dalton said the hospital's radiology department currently had a 40 per cent vacancy rate which was adding to the pressure on staff.

And the shortages were even more acute for interventional radiographers. She said Middlemore was currently operating with just two, which meant while one was working, the other was on call.

"Radiographers in Middlemore are working as many hours as possible, but are starting to struggle to keep up with acute presentations, let alone elective work," Dalton said.

"Radiography can be a bottleneck in the public health system, so having sufficient staff to perform this vital role means faster treatment of patients."

But Dalton said it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the right people.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists chief executive Sarah Dalton.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

"There is a shortage [of radiographers and radiologists] on a worldwide scale. Public health needs to compete with the private sector which often offers more lucrative contracts," Dalton said.

Her thoughts were shared by Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) national secretary Dr Deborah Powell, who said the situation at the hospital was dire.

"Middlemore has been short of radiographers for a long time. But post Covid, more people have been leaving the profession and now things are in a real state," she said.

Powell said the numbers of patients referred to Middlemore by GPs and specialists for CT scans were continuing to grow.

She said waiting lists numbers were affected by Covid-19. But Powell said the fact Middlemore Hospital currently had a shortage of about 35 radiographers was only adding to the backlog.

CT scans were vital for diagnosis and treatment of everything from internal injuries and head injuries to cancer and provide a highly detailed picture of the internal organs, bones, blood vessels and soft tissues inside the body.

A Te Whatu Ora spokesperson said it currently had 1444 patients waiting for CT scans, as of 30 October 2022. That compares to 1155 patients pre-pandemic in November 2019.

"There are many causes of these increased figures, including the ongoing impacts of Covid delays, growing demand/referrals, and workforce challenges."

The spokesperson said it was also actively recruiting, both nationally and internationally, with 11 full-time radiology unit staff set to start in December and January.

"As with all areas of the health sector, the recruitment environment is challenging but we will continue to explore all avenues to recruit these skilled specialists."

The spokesperson said radiology professionals had also been included in the government's updated immigration green list released in July which provides a guaranteed pathway to residency for skilled migrants.

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