Kiwis wary of surgery wait times switch to private healthcare

This may be old data for some, but as of April this year, there were a reported 280,000 Kiwis waiting for elective surgery in New Zealand. And that’s fine until you remember that we have a diminutive population, just shy of 4.5 million, and realise that’s a staggering six per cent of New Zealanders. Patience is a virtue? More like a given. What’s even more stagger inducing is the independent research, conducted by Health Funds Association (HFANZ), also indicated that of that number only 110,000 were officially on waiting lists, with the remaining 170,000 left in the wings, despite being advised they required surgery. Sadly, the data has shown no improvement since 2013, despite a general increase in funding.

Patience is a virtue

If that weren’t bad enough, the average public wait times for those that did have surgery were up to 177 days compared to private surgery wait times of 76 days. Those extra hundred days are made stark when you consider that 41% of those currently on waiting lists have discomfort and impact on life ratings categorised as severe or significant. This wouldn’t have been surprising news for many in the industry as an initiative dubbed the National Patient Flow Project was long ago set up to gather data and investigate patient journeys through secondary medical care and is into its third phase. Data from October 1 to December 31, 2015 indicated that 5 percent of specialist referrals requesting surgery were declined.

Q and A, or Q and Q

Yet to be fully addressed is the effect on the 5 per cent out there who get their application for treatment denied. Back to the drawing board? Back to their overworked GPs? Pop a couple of extra aspirin? Wait for it to get worse enough to justify surgery? And what are the effects on the community, the workforce and families? There are more questions than the industry currently has answers for. Ultimately, New Zealanders are suffering and waiting and suffering and waiting and although patience is supposedly a virtue, it’s just part of the overwhelming picture of a New Zealand healthcare system that is working hard, but ultimately struggling to keep up due to an aging population, increased demand and policies that don’t effectively facilitate swift treatment.

Taking control?

So, in times of uncertainty, when people are likely to leaf through a paper and find stories about patients on waiting lists, or heaven forbid, declined treatment, it’s not surprising that Southern Cross Health Society recently announced an increase in the number of Kiwis relying on private healthcare. What’s more, Southern Cross’ steady increase in membership numbers also backs another study by HFANZ proclaiming that there were now 1.3 million Kiwis with private health insurance cover as of June 2016, an increase of 1.1% from the same time last year. The more salient increases in insurance age groups were a 12% jump in young Kiwis in the 0-4 age bracket, and a 6% rise in the 25-39 age group. This is great for a healthcare industry under stress, but even better that Kiwis are taking their futures seriously and looking to be better prepared and protected when it comes to their health.

As ever, Rees-Thomas Financial Services encourages investigation into a comprehensive health insurance plan in times of uncertainty to avoid, well, times of uncertainty, and urges consumers to be wary of poor advice when assessing your policy options.

Samuel Rees-Thomas