Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora has today published its Clinical Performance Metrics for the period 1 July to 30 September 2023.
These metrics are an important part of our transparency to New Zealanders about how the health system is performing.
This quarter’s report shows the continuing challenges the system is facing.
While there are small improvements in the areas of mental health wait times and childhood immunisation rates, hospital pressures continue to present significant challenges, particularly impacting on specialist appointments, planned care and Emergency Department performance.
Dr Richard Sullivan, Te Whatu Ora’s Interim Chief Clinical Officer, says the pressures largely stem from three factors: population growth (more people needing care); the aging population (reflecting greater care needs as people age); and an increasing number of people who have chronic and complex conditions, such as diabetes and cardiac disease.
“These factors are each important, and together, they significantly increase demand for services, stretching our service capacity. Our challenge is both to reduce demand on hospitals where we can, such as through investments in prevention and the good work of primary and community care, and to meet the underlying growth in demand as best we can.
“Despite the challenges, our incredible workforce does its best, something we recognise and appreciate. For example, in the year to June 2023, we delivered nearly 20,000 more planned care interventions compared to the previous year – a 6.4% increase in surgeries or treatments for New Zealanders requiring hospital care.
“Our immediate focus is on urgent patients and those who have been waiting for treatment the longest. We know this is making a difference; everyone waiting more than three years for treatment has now been treated or has a treatment plan. But we cannot take our foot off the pedal, we need to build on momentum and do more.
“We have also significantly reduced the number of people waiting longer than a year for treatment, reducing that list by over 12,300 people since July. We are now focused on addressing wait times for first specialist appointments with significant work underway in this area.”
”Positive news in this quarter’s report is improved wait times for mental health compared to the same period last year. More young people (6.1%) accessed specialist mental health services within three weeks of referral (compared to the same period last year). Improvements were seen across all ethnicities. While this improvement is positive, it is too early to say if it represents a trend. We will continue to work hard in this important area.”
For childhood immunisation rates, the overall rate has been steady, though the positive news was the increase in rates for some regions and for Māori. This is likely to reflect the focus on flexible models of care, and the design and delivery of services that work for different groups of people.
The number of people waiting for a first specialist appointment continues to rise. This is not unexpected given the pressure on our hospitals and primary and community services. Reducing this number will be a key priority in coming months, though change will take some time and in the short term the number may further rise.
“Our work to improve on this measure will include new models of care. A good example is a new musculoskeletal initiative, which has successfully reduced assessment and treatment wait times for orthopaedic patients and helped prevent the need for surgery. The evaluation of a prototype across three regions found 75% of people, using a new assessment pathway, didn’t need to be referred for surgery. Work is underway to develop the initiative and extend it next year.
“It is initiatives like these, utilising expert clinicians in community-based settings, that can have a significant impact on hospital service demand while providing more convenient care for New Zealanders. We also know there is work to do to improve how people move from hospital care into community-based options that still meet their care needs; this is something our review of aged care will seek to address.
“I want to reassure New Zealanders they have a dedicated team of health professionals who are committed to improving our system and making it the best it can be.”
Information about our data:
- We are currently not reporting on clinical metric 12 – Emergency Department Admissions – due to ongoing challenges with validating the data used to produce this metric. We are working to gain consensus on a meaningful definition for this metric, so we can ensure it is applied consistently across the country.
- District specific data has been removed from six clinical measures in this quarter’s report, as explained in the clinical metrics report.