THE Hunter New England Health (HNEH) district has one of the highest rates of cancelled surgeries in the state, according to a report that paints an unflattering picture of the health body’s performance on surgery.
The NSW Auditor-General’s report on operating theatre efficiency reveals 5.8 per cent of patients had their elective surgery cancelled on the day of the procedure in 2011-12, well above the state target of 2 per cent and the NSW average of 4.4 per cent.
This gives HNEH the second-highest rate of cancelled surgery, on par with the Mid North Coast and behind the St Vincent’s Health Network. Armidale and Glen Innes hospitals were among the poorest performers in the state in this regard.
Armidale hospital had the third-highest rate of cancelled surgeries among its peer group of hospitals, at 6.2 per cent, while Glen Innes had the highest rate of cancellations among similar hospitals, at 4.8 per cent.
But the situation was worst at Newcastle’s John Hunter hospital, with a cancellation rate of 8.1 per cent.
Along with the rest of the state, HNEH fell well below the target when it came to performing elective surgery sessions on time, with just 23 per cent of first cases starting when scheduled – compared to the target of 95 per cent. The NSW average was just 44 per cent.
HNEH director of acute networks Todd McEwan said the health body was committed to implementing recommendations of the Agency for Clinical Innovation, which had a surgical services taskforce focusing on “first case on time” to ensure operating theatre time was used efficiently.
Operating theatres across the district and the state are also under-utilised, according to the report.
HNEH had the third-lowest rate of operating theatre utilisation, with Tamworth hospital at 68 per cent – the second-lowest rate of major hospitals and below the target of 85 per cent.
Mr McEwan said the district’s utilisation rate was reduced by the comparatively low utilisation of theatres in smaller rural facilities such as Moree, Inverell and Gunnedah, where visiting medical officers might perform as few as one operating session a week.
The average cost of surgeries in the health district was also more expensive than the state average, the report found.
“As the report acknowledges, it is challenging to accurately estimate the cost of individual procedures,” Mr McEwan said.
“Costs vary based on the condition of the patient, any complications experienced during surgery and the size of the surgical service.”
He said there was a rise in prosthetic replacements, which were high-cost procedures.
Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat said while more elective surgery was being performed across NSW, more people could be operated on if operating theatres ran more efficiently.
He said hospitals needed to start the first operations of the day on time, stay on time, and minimise the number of cancellations.
“Waiting times for elective surgery will continue to increase if NSW Health does not improve its management of operating theatres,” Mr Achterstraat said.