30 Jul 2010

Hard haul foreseen in improving heart services

9:15 pm on 30 July 2010

Heart specialists hope to make a start on improving services for cardiac patients but they warn it won't be easy.

The specialists say a national strategy is needed to improve the care of people who suffer cardiac problems - about 21,000 of them each year.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says the situation has improved since 2007 but not fast enough. He wants all cardiac patients who need an angiogram to have one within 72 hours of a diagnosis.

Cardiac Society chairman Gerrard Devlin says that he hopes to be able to extend the maximum 72-hour waiting time to 80% of patients within six months but that it will be at least a year before all patients have that right.

Little improvement in eight years

Details on the care of patients with acute coronary syndrome in 2007 published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal show that access to heart services has shown no noticeable improvement in the past eight years, and that there are major issues outside the main centres.

Specialist Chris Ellis, who has led two audits of the management of patient care at most New Zealand hospitals, says that there are log-jams in the system and that the minor improvements made since the first audit in 2002 have not been enough.

Minister admits regional problems

Radio New Zealand's health correspondent says that, compared with other countries, New Zealand has low levels of investigations, evidence-based treatments and the use of procedures such as angiography and coronary artery bypass grafts.

Health Minister Tony Ryall admits services for heart patients in the regions are not up to scratch.

He told Morning Report there's a problem getting heart-attack patients from the outer regions to the main centres where they will get good care.

He said immediate steps have been taken to start engaging specialists in the worst area, the Midland region.