Exclusive: Wellington hospitals using outdated, faulty equipment

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

Some medical technologies are failing clinicians every day in our hospitals according to one Wellington based healthcare worker, and it’s costing lives.

In a revealing interview with 1News, Rob, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, described the stress created by working with “substandard” equipment.

“Some of the pieces of equipment that we have are so old that they’ve reached their use by date and we're continuing to use them while they’re faulty," he says.

He says staff calls for upgrades have fallen on deaf ears for more than a decade now.

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“Some of the critical techniques and procedures that we do we can’t be sure that it's accurate and that’s very difficult to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

He says equipment is only replaced once it fails, the result is that some tertiary services are simply unavailable for patients.

The Medical Technologies Association of New Zealand agrees that much of the equipment used in our hospitals is outdated.

“We've underinvested in health over the last decade or so compared to similar countries,” says Chief Executive Cushla Currie.

She says this likely impacts patient outcomes.

“This is about clinicians wanting the best health outcomes for their patients, and the question is can they do that with outdated technology, I think most clinicians would tell you no.”

She says our medical facilities and technologies simply aren’t evolving with the times.

“Medical technology is a lot like mobile phone technology it evolves very rapidly.

"If you think about a mobile phone you had 10 years ago and compare it to the one you have now, they're often just worlds apart.

"If you look at that example for doctors where they’ve got this technology which might be 10 years old, they know that it’s not fit for purpose today.”

However, Rob says the situation inside the Wellington and Hutt Hospitals is worse off in comparison to other DHBs.

An example, he says, is their operating theatres which are “completely under-resourced.”

For more than a decade now they’ve been asking for a hybrid operating theatre, that works as a one-stop shop with numerous facilities pulled from various medical units.

Hybrid operating theatres of this type are widely used overseas.

“It’s [a] basic fundamental technology that we need to do to perform our jobs, without it, it gets so frustrating,” he says.

Dr Peter Vann is a vascular surgeon in Auckland.

He says hybrid operating theatres have proven to be life-saving for patients.

“Compared to a decade ago where patients have to go from one theatre to another, have a scan done, find out exactly where the problem is and be transported and usually these few minutes can make the difference between life and death.”

In Wellington though, Rob is aware of at least two patients' lives that could have been saved if a hybrid operating theatre was used.

He says the region is failing to provide the “basic standards of care” for its people.

“I think that if people knew that we didn’t have those sorts of facilities there would be an outcry, we see patients being inadequately treated all the time,” says Rob.

There are four hybrid operating theatres across all our DHBs, they’re in Auckland, Waikato, Christchurch and Taranaki.

Dr Vann has been working in the Auckland DHB with this unit for years now and says it’s a necessity and results in cost-effective treatment too because “patients recover faster, much less resource is being used and patients leave hospital faster”.

Currie says we can be cost-effective in the same way if we update other medical technologies.

“Although you're spending more money upfront you’re saving a couple of thousand dollars in the health system that it would cost for that person to stay in hospital overnight,” she says.

The UK has a health care model where new equipment is bought by looking at what value it provides to the total health sector, and Currie says it's time New Zealand followed suit.

1News was told by Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs that a hybrid operating theatre is scheduled for planning in the next two years for the Wellington region.

“To see other centres progress and we haven’t, especially as the capital city and a significantly large region, so many patients are disadvantaged,” says Smith.

But, with the disestablishment of DHBs next month it’s hoped hospitals will have more equitable access to resources.

“I think there have been pockets of excellence over a long period but now we need to see some standardisation and get rid of that postcode lottery and that’s one of the primary reasons for the establishment of Health NZ,” says Currie.

Smith however isn’t too hopeful change will come.

“Whoever the decision makers are they need to look closely and stop pretending that there’s not a crisis, that there’s not going to be a serious failing,” he says.