Elderly Kiwis are being forced to sell their homes to fund elective surgeries and avoid long-term pain and disability, Grey Power says.

The organisation found 56 of 1500 members it surveyed said they had sold their homes to pay for private elective surgery as they were unable to access the procedure through the public system.

Grey Power president Tom O’Connor​ said successive governments had not addressed the impact of the aging population on the demand for elective procedures.

“If you don’t fund it adequately people become inactive, disabled and become a huge burden.”

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The survey found 209 members had been waiting for six years for surgery, while 22 were declined because they were too old.

Orthopaedic surgeons had joined Grey Power in calling for the Government to address the problem.

Hip and knee replacements alone were forecast to double by 2026.

New Zealand Orthopaedic Association (NZOA) president and Tauranga surgeon Dr Richard Keddell said the health system would not be able to cope with future surgery demand.

“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.”

O’Connor said the survey showed clearly there was already a crisis.

“The crisis is not looming; it’s here and it has been coming for some time.”

Keddell agreed demand was already outstripping supply and said orthopaedic surgeons were rationing procedures for patients they knew would benefit from surgery.

A national scoring system to determine severity of symptoms was used differently by district health boards to manage patient flows, which resulted in variations in access to procedures around the country.

“The reality is all of us in all the regions are saying no to people that we feel we should be able to operate on.”

The majority of patients declined surgery were surprisingly understanding, but some became upset, angry or cried at the news, Keddell said.

The increasing demand for elective surgery was a result of 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 current approach to planning for future orthopaedic surgery demand was “arbitrary and disconnected”, he said.

Ministry of Health group manager integrated service design Clare Perry said the Government was committed to “supporting improved access to orthopaedic care” and already collaborated with agencies and health service providers involved in the delivery of elective surgery.

“Rather than a specific taskforce, we would welcome the input of the NZOA into existing processes and discussions.”

Facts and figures

▪ Hip and knee replacements are predicted to double by 2026.

▪ Nine to 12 orthopaedic surgeons are trained each year, but this will need to increase by another 25 by 2026.

▪ Ministry of Health data shows orthopaedics are the worst surgical specialty for access to elective clinics.

▪ There are about 8700 primary knee and hip replacements carried out in public hospitals each year.

▪ 73 per cent of all hip and 77 per cent of knee replacements are performed on patients aged over 60 years old.

▪ The overall decline rate for elective orthopaedic surgery, such as hip and joint replacements, was 16 per cent across all health boards.

 – Stuff

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