We’re doing more surgery, and still the waiting lists grow

How much, as taxpayers, are we willing to pay for other people getting every little thing taken care of as part of your “free” health system?

More than 7000 people missed out on elective surgeries over a three-month period last year — thousands more than initially thought.

New data released by the government shows 7229 patients referred to hospital specialists by GPs between July 1 and September 30 did not meet the threshold for publicly-funded elective surgery.

Provisional figures released in March showed 5335 patients had missed out.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said all up, 158,214 patients had been referred for a first assessment by a specialist, and 87 percent of referrals were accepted, while five percent were declined.

“As the data builds we expect the number of patients sent back to their GP for care as they did not meet the threshold, may rise to around 10 to 15 percent,” he said.  

Health Funds Association, the industry body representing health insurers, said it confirms what they already know – more and more people are waiting for elective surgery.

Chief executive Roger Styles said the association’s own figures showed up to 280,000 people were waiting.

“More and more people need surgery, but our public system is stretching just to keep pace with growing demand, while less urgent cases have to wait longer and longer,” he said,

The system is always going to be stretched because new procedures come along and patients who were never eligible for surgery now, all of a sudden, are.

Then there are those who want their lifestyle subsidised on the public health system…like transgender folk who want all the surgery paid for by the taxpayer.

People dream up all sorts of surgeries and procedures to demand from the government…and we have to pay for it. Fifty years ago there were no hip replacements…you got old, your hips failed, you lived in a wheel chair…no surgery waiting lists..nothing. Now there is a waiting list. The sad thing is the old bastards die a few years later and the new hip goes in the box with them.

We will never get on top of this while the public expects the taxpayer to pick up the tab for everything.


– Newshub


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  • shykiwibloke

    I suggest we need to be careful of classification terminology when debating this topic. Elective surgery sounds like you have a choice to live without it. The term is useful politically in downplaying the delays. I was recently shocked to discover my wife’s cancer surgery was considered ‘elective’ – if she had not had it fairly smartly I would no longer have a wife. It would be interesting to know what other life-or-death operations are considered elective.

    • KGB

      I agree they need to change the terms they use.
      Elective surgery is tattoo removal, breast reductions, teeth extraction, etc.
      If they separated this type of proceedure we would have a better idea of how much we spend on wants as opposed to needs.
      Though a friend had a breast reduction due to severe back problems, it is not in the cancer category.

    • Genevieve

      The terms may sound confusing to patients and relatives but there is a clear distinction.
      Elective surgery is when the patient is booked in for surgery on a particular day under a specified surgeon.
      Acute surgery is when the patient is admitted to hospital in an emergency that requires surgery to save their life or prevent major complications. Eg, a burst appendix. Surgeons have a call roster to deal with these extra cases. Occasionally, patients who are already on the wards will require acute surgery for the same reasons.
      The needs of waiting lists will never be completely met, but NZ does have an incredibly good health system.

      • Miss McGerkinshaw

        Thanks for explaining that as I was totally of the opinion that it was ‘elective surgery’ in that someone chose to have something done rather than something that needed to be done.

      • shykiwibloke

        Thanks for the definition. Perhaps it is not the ideal term, but that is why I wanted to caution everyone before jumping on the stats for elective.
        Is there a sub-classification that would help in separating quality of life surgery from quantity of life perhaps? For example – a working age women’s cancer op vs octogenarian’s knee upgrade. Or even some value-to-society measure. Not a pleasant concept, but prioritisation has to occur somewhere.

        • Genevieve

          That prioritisation does occur in the waiting list system, an example being, that a woman with breast cancer would have her surgery sooner than someone with an arthritic hip requiring a hip replacement.
          It can be incredibly frustrating for patients/family who are doing the waiting and sometimes hard for them to understand why someone else’s surgery needs should take priority over theirs.

    • FornaK

      It shouldn’t matter how old they are. If they’ve been paying their dues their whole lifetime and require surgery, then us taxpayers should pay for them. If they happen to die the Next day, so be it. They’ve paid their dues, so we should return the favour.

      What grinds my gears, is when these people miss out to new immigrants, refugees, or tourists who require surgery, thus being pushed down, or off the waiting lists.
      Would these new immigrants, refugees or tourists provide this type of care to us NZ’s in their own/former countries? I don’t think so Tim.

      Fairs fair. We should be looking after our own people first, before new, or passing through, arrivals are given treatment here.

  • Old Kiwi

    “The sad thing is the old bastards die a few years later and the new hip goes in the box with them.”

    Thanks Cam, I can now rest peacefully and guilt free in my box knowing I paid for mine ?
    Hopefully it’s near worn out by then.

    The real sad part is with dementia these days many of them won’t even remember having had the operation. It’s like that with my Mum. At least her last years are free of pain as a result of the hip op but sadly free of memories also. It was a dilemma. What to do? A use by date stamped on the forehead when born would be so helpful. In the end, we couldn’t have left her in that sort of pain if she happened to live another 8 years or so. At 90 she came through op with flying colours – not that Mum remembers.

  • Second time around

    Few people who do have surgery will actually regret having surgery because there is the strong expectation that it will cure, and after the operation there is no real way of knowing how the condition would have progressed. However there is a body of opinion (see this week’s Listener) that many elective surgeries do not confer benefit. I would be more concerned about people who cannot get diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopy done in a timely manner, because the difference can be, literally, life or death.

  • Keyser Soze

    Surely by definition ‘elective’ surgery is surgery that someone wants not what someone needs?

    • Mikex

      The elective surgery definition appears reasonably black and white.

      “Elective surgery is a term used for non-emergency surgery which is medically necessary, but which can be delayed for at least 24 hours. Patients requiring emergency surgery will not be placed on the elective surgery list.”

      Elective surgery is then rated Urgent, semi urgent and non-urgent. Hence elective surgery designation covers a whole multitude of needs including life threatening situations.

  • Mick Ie

    I would be interested to see the break down of all ethnic groups and the types of surgeries that are prioritised and allocated. Especially the non-emergency-self-elected surgeries.

  • PsychoKea

    Elective surgery is dealing with a health issue that isn’t going to cause your imminent demise, a procedure to remedy a condition that is causing you to be severely debilitated and unable to function through normal activities is still classified as elective, albeit you would score more points to push you up the list, sorting your self out in the private sector means you are not at the whims of the operating inefficiencies of the DHB’s

  • Rebecca

    Healthcare can consume a country’s entire GDP if allowed. So every health system requires rationing in one form or another. In NZ the rationing includes waiting lists and acceptance criteria.

    Even if government does stump up more cash for elective surgery, you can’t just throw it and expect an instant response. Fortunately Coleman has personal experience of those busy Auckland hospitals where bed juggling to accommodate more and more patients, has become an art form. NZ hospitals’ hotel facilities function far more efficiently than US equivalents, not that credit ever is given- but with facilities increasingly bursting at the seams with acutely sick patients, sometimes its neither safe nor desirable to ring fence resources for elective procedures.

    For NZers who won’t wait, there can be alternatives. Some purchase health insurance to avoid the queues while others stump up for private care. For those without ready cash, often lenders will consider reverse mortgage arrangements.

  • Superman

    What would help a lot is making contributions to private health insurance tax deductible. This would encourage more people to take out insurance and lessen the burden on the public system. The public health system is heavily burdened with dealing with acute problems that can’t wait. Elective procedures will always be secondary and subject to long waiting lists. The real waiting lists are far greater than those officially published because very inventive means are used to hide them. Many New Zealanders still think that having paid their tax the public system is duty bound to help them. For those who think this my advice is to prepare for a long wait or even nothing at all.