Government losing millions of dollars by leaving hundreds of kidney patients on dialysis - research

The Government is losing millions of dollars by ignoring the long list of people needing a kidney transplant and leaving hundreds of patients languishing on dialysis, new research says.

But the research by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) says allowing another 50 patients per year to have a kidney transplant would save up to $70 million over the next six years.

According to Kidney Health New Zealand (KHNZ), eight people start dialysis every week - but only about 170 patients received a kidney transplant each year. 

One patient who's been on dialysis for 21 years, Jenny Ili, says getting a new kidney would give her a more fulfilling life.

"[I'd] be back to normal again - like a normal person, do everyday things again that normal people do," Ili told The AM Show.

She said all she can do on dialysis is waste time.

"You're doing it for six hours… [you] sit there, sleep, read a book, or watch TV or just play on my phone."

Commissioned by KHNZ, the NZIER says 3700 Kiwis like Ili received dialysis treatment in 2020 - at a cost of $115,00 per patient, per year.

"The report dramatically predicts a 'veritable tsunami of demand' for dialysis treatment in the years ahead. Dialysis patient numbers have exploded by 24 percent in the past six years and are modelled to rise a further 30 percent in the coming decade, a reflection of exploding rates of Type 2 diabetes, particularly among Māori and Pasifika patients," KHNZ said in a statement.

"Currently 462 New Zealand patients are waiting for a transplant, with the NZIER estimating the cost of a kidney transplant at around $75,000. The report calculates that having a patient on dialysis for six years costs $626,000; if that same patient were given a transplant, the cost six years on would be $237,000 for both their procedure and post-transplant care. 

"If a dialysis patient lives for 20 years, the cost to the health system is estimated to be $1,040,000 compared to $538,000 if that same patient received an immediate transplant."

As a result of the report, KHNZ is calling on the Government to take action straight away.

"We do feel the Government has been asleep at the wheel here. If they stay asleep and don’t wake up… and recognise the millions of precious taxpayer dollars being needlessly lost by underinvestment in transplant, then hundreds more patients will simply die waiting," KHNZ general manager Michael Campbell said.

In a statement to Newshub, Health Minister Andrew Little agreed the report raised important issues.

"The Government agrees that the national health system should be better co-ordinated so that everyone has access to the healthcare they need, no matter who they are or where they live. This is the key principle behind our reform of the health system," Little said.

"In line with this, we have already made the New Zealand Blood and Organ Service responsible for co-ordinating the national organ donation programme.

"The Government will consider the other issues raised in the report and thanks Kidney NZ for it."

KHNZ says about one in 10 Kiwis have undiagnosed kidney disease. Symptoms include discomfort when passing urine, blood in urine, pain in the loin, lethargy and shortness of breath.