30 Sep 2019

Strikes cause major delays to x-rays and scans

7:19 pm on 30 September 2019

X-rays and scans are needed by many patients admitted to hospital but today, from North Cape to Bluff, they were reserved for urgent cases only as radiographers went on strike.

X ray film with doctor's hand to examine

Photo: 123RF

That was a major concern to the head of the emergency department at Hawke's Bay Hospital in Hastings, Mark Barlow.

"Probably 95 percent of patients who end up getting admitted to hospital have an x-ray or a scan of some sort within the first 24 hours of their admission," Mr Barlow said.

"The strike defers the imaging for a large number of patients which makes definitive decision making harder."

He said it also means less efficient care, and more patients waiting in beds that are already in high demand. But he said his biggest worry is the risk it poses to patients.

"From my perspective this is the biggest risk to patient safety that we have seen in the midst of all the health related industrial action that's gone on prior to this," he said.

"I think we were able to provide the same level of care through the other strikes but this one really takes away an important imaging modality that we use on a dialy basis for patients."

DHBs have said the strikes are part of a coordinated campaign by several health workforce groups to leverage more pay than others doing the same or similar work in other unions.

Mark Barlow.

Mark Barlow. Photo: Supplied

The union has rejected that charge, but either way the pressure was also on at the large Canterbury DHB today.

Chief medical officer Sue Nightingale said restricted access to a range of x-rays and scans meant they've had to reschedule 400 non-urgent outpatient radiology appointments today, and a similar number for the strike on Wednesday.

She said about 10 operations also had to be postponed.

"So it's a huge impact on our patients and a huge impact on our staff with all the contingency planning that needs to happen," said Dr Nightingale.

"It affects clinicians, it affects managers, it affects our admin staff. But most singificantly it creates delays for patients which we just cannot catch up with."

Dr Nightingale said it's another blow during a tough year with the mosque attacks, the junior doctors' strike, and a major flood at the hospital.

"We're still behind in seeing a significant number of outpatients and we're behind in some of our elective surgery. It gets to the point where it's just not possible to catch up."

The chief medical officer of the Dunedin-based Southern DHB, Nigel Millar, said some major operations have also been delayed there.

He said he had not spoken to patients about this "but i think if I were them I would feel quite disappointed and frustrated that .. working up towards that type of major surgery is a big thing and then to find it's delayed at the last minute must be very distressing."

DHBs national contingency planner Anne Aitcheson said most DHBs needed to call in radiographers today under special Life Preserving Services agreements between the union and DHBs before the strike, for emergency care.

She added that is nothing to do with poor planning.

"This works the way it's designed to work," Ms Aitcheson said.

"This is part of the preparation that needs to take place for the two weeks before any period of industrial action, and ensuring that we have backup when we need it."

Hospitals stress those needing urgent care will still get it at public hospitals.

The Apex national secretary Deborah Powell said the strike today had "gone as expected".

She added that the strikes will continue until the employers come back with a decent offer.

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