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May 16, 2021

Tweed Hospital’s ‘secret’ waiting list

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The Tweed Hospital Photo supplied
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Chris Dobney

The Tweed Hospital’s waiting list is much longer than government records show, according to a local physician.

Dr Marc Heyning, chairperson of Mullumbimby Hospital’s Medical Staff Council, says that in non-urgent areas such as orthopaedic surgery, the public patients of non-staff specialists are not included in the hospital’s official waiting-list figures.

The outcome of this is that the waiting list crisis at Tweed, which has an ageing population often requiring surgery such as hip replacements, is much worse than figures suggest.

And even worse, he says, staff specialists at the Tweed have been told by the  local health district to avoid even making appointments for patients requiring non-urgent surgery.

If the proposed theatres at the new Byron Central Hospital were run as public, rather than private, facilities they would considerably help to relieve pressure from overcrowded facilities at Tweed, Dr Heyning told Echonetdaily.

‘The situation currently at Tweed is that staff orthopaedic surgeons have been told by the health service to limit the number of public patients they even see in their rooms because if that public patient then needs to go onto a waiting list, that waiting list is going to be too long,’ Dr Heyning said.

‘So the easiest way to keep the waiting list down is not to see the patient in the first place,’ he added.

‘If a staff specialist sees a public patient and puts them on the waiting list it will appear in the waiting list statistics for that hospital.

‘But at Tweed they have a limited number of public specialists so most people who need an operation like this see a surgeon privately.

‘Say a private surgeon, who also does public work, sees a patient who doesn’t have private health insurance. If he says, “oh yes, you need a hip operation”, and puts them on the waiting list for a hip replacement, that patient won’t appear on the waiting list for the public hospital because it’s his public patient waiting list.

‘So it’s a hidden waiting list.’

‘At the moment, Tweed only has four theatres. Those four theatres are overworked.’

Dr Heyning said that while some work is offloaded to Murwillumbah, more support is still required.

‘The idea would be that you could take some of the other surgery that’s being done at Tweed, whether it be ear nose and throat, urology, simple gynaecology – take them out of the theatres at Tweed to free them up.

‘Lismore does its less acute operations at Casino; currently Tweed does a certain number of less high intensity operations at Murwillumbah but the surgeons at Tweed are saying “we need more theatre time” and Murwillumbah is not able to supply that need.’

‘Whether the health service has sufficient funds to fund those extra operations at the moment, I don’t know, but they don’t have the capacity.’

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  1. A major cause of hip joint wear is obesity (not to mention all the other medical problems it affects). Would-be operatees should be given a weight target to meet before going on to the genuine waiting list. At present, GP’s seem to be ignoring obesity in their patients.

    • I agree that obesity is a big cause of morbidity, but GPs aren’t ignoring obesity. Some patients cannot lose weight because their joint disease restricts their ability to be active and weight loss is very hard without adequate exercise. It’s a catch 22 and they feel very disappointed. I am a GP, and like my colleagues I am always trying to help patients to manage their weight. Weight loss is very hard once a person reaches a certain size. Also, I could show you plenty of lean patients with knee and hip arthritis warranting replacement too.


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