Surgery wait costing lives

SIX people died waiting for heart surgery in Tasmania this year and 18 have been waiting for surgery for more than twice the recommended time.

And Australian Nursing Federation secretary Neroli Ellis said most of those delays could have been prevented if the government provided enough funding to open all 24 beds in the intensive care unit at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Figures released in the Legislative Council yesterday showed that of the 42 people on the waiting list for cardiac surgery in Tasmania between July 1 and April 18, 28 had had their surgery delayed because beds were unavailable in the intensive care unit.

Fifteen had surgery delayed because there were not enough ICU staff. Of the six people who died on the waiting list, four died of non-cardiac causes.

Mrs Ellis said the government's decision to fund just 12 to 14 of the 24 beds at the redeveloped Intensive Care Unit caused more delays.

``Had the government approved funding for all the beds, those people would not have to wait for surgery because there would be enough beds for them,'' she said.

Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne said there had been no cuts to the ICU budgets, but that emergency surgery sometimes caused elective surgeries to be pushed out.

Most heart surgeries are classed as elective surgery as they do not have to be performed immediately.

``Cardiac surgery waiting lists continue to be managed by clinicians with the same skill and diligence as previous years,'' Ms O'Byrne said.

But Mrs Ellis said the situation was getting worse, with ICU nurses at the Royal Hobart Hospital working double shifts and were increasingly pulled away from the unit to deal with medical emergencies in the wards.

``It's clearly not business as usual when you are getting to this sort of occupancy level and over-crowding,'' Mrs Ellis said.

Health policy analyst Martyn Goddard said the delays were caused by a poor management of funds that allowed a shortage of ICU beds. ``This is serious because these are sick people.'' Mr Goddard said.

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