Southern DHB considering after-hours surgery to meet demand

Southern District Health Board is facing such a struggle meeting surgery demand that it's considering extending theatre hours to nights and weekends.

It's also had to pay private hospitals to do more than 100 orthopaedic surgeries this year, even after hiring two new surgeons and with a third expected in July.

For Glenys Cooper, it can't come soon enough.

The 65-year-old said she was turned away by a specialist who told her if she lived elsewhere, she'd be a shoo-in for a knee replacement.

"He said if you lived in Christchurch or Auckland it would get done. He said 'I'll put your name forward for surgery but I don't think you'll be accepted' and I came home in tears," she said.

Ms Cooper says she can walk, but only just.

"You just grit your teeth and get on with it, just grin and bear it, you've got to walk."

It's not just walking though, Ms Cooper loves her garden and her grandkid. She says she's missing out on quality of life, suffering in limbo until she meets the criteria to get on the waitlist.  

She's had a number of steroid injections into her knee over the past five years and at the moment she's taking up to 13 pain pills a day plus Panadol on top of that to manage the pain.

"I've looked at getting it done privately - I'd have to re-mortgage the house because its $23,000 to $25,000."

Prime Minister Bill English says he has sympathy.

"I wouldn't want to comment in detail on the story but there may be someone who is really feeling the pressure of not getting a service that they want to get and we sympathise with that."

Southern DHB's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nigel Millar, shares that sentiment.

"We're very concerned if any patient is suffering undue pain or inconvenience as a result of waiting for a medical procedure," he said.

Labour's health spokesperson Annette King says it’s wrong.

"People should not be having to mortgage their house to have a necessary operation  when there's a public health system they're paying taxes for," she said.

But the health system in Dunedin can't keep up

Orthopaedic surgeries, which includes knee replacements, are on the rise nationwide, up 3000 over the last seven years.

But over that same time at Southern DHB they've fallen - from 1931 to 1698.

Ms Cooper has a blunt message for the Government.

"For god's sake, give us some money so we can get better."

But the DHB insists they're working hard to get patients the help they need.

"We're taking a number of significant steps to further increase patient access to elective procedures, including hip and knee replacement surgeries," Dr Millar said in a statement.

"Southern DHB is funding a number of orthopaedic procedures - up to 129 this year - through private providers, to continue to increase patient access to elective orthopaedic services. We are also exploring opportunities to increase theatre capacity to enable greater numbers of procedures to be performed."

He also said it was important to note that his area had much higher demand for joint surgery because of an older population and a high proportion of agricultural workers - who are more susceptible to arthritis.