Orthopaedic surgery crisis looming in New Zealand

  • 16/08/2017

The New Zealand Orthopaedic Association is calling for a national approach to avert a looming crisis in orthopaedic surgery.

Orthopaedic surgery focuses on treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system - which includes joints, tendons and the skeleton - especially knee, hip, shoulder and spine problems.

The number of hip and knee replacements is predicted to double by 2026, and President Richard Keddell says the orthopaedic workforce and surgical facilities will not be able to cope.

New Zealand is currently training between nine and 12 orthopaedic surgeons per year, but we will need up to 25 more surgeons just for joint replacement surgery by 2026.

  • There are about 8700 primary knee and hip replacements done in public hospitals each year.
  • Around 73 percent of all hip and 77 percent of knee replacements were performed on patients over 60 years old.
  • The overall decline rate for elective orthopaedic surgery such as hip and joint replacements is 16 percent across all DHBs.

"This means New Zealanders needing joint replacements and other orthopaedic surgery will have to live in pain because they can't get the surgery they need," he says.

The increasing demand is due to factors including the ageing population, more joint replacements, and technological advances.

"It's not just about having enough orthopaedic surgeons - we also need more anaesthetists, nurses and theatres. Teams take time to train; theatres take time to build."

The Association is calling on the Government to convene a national planning taskforce.

"Agencies have collectively not paid enough attention to the problem, and if we don't start taking a different approach we will be facing a crisis in the future," he says.

"We need to start exploring things like having longer operating hours, with better use of resources; as well as using more of the capacity available in private hospitals."

Mr Keddell says doing nothing will leave people in pain.

"People unable to access joint replacements in a timely way can be denied an active, healthy life where they are able to continue to work, contribute to the economy and participate in their communities," he says.

"Not to mention some having to spend months and sometimes years in debilitating pain while they wait for surgery."