Pensioner loses job, home and health waiting for operations

 

CRIPPLED pensioner Mal Tolhurst has lost his job, his home and his health while waiting more than a year for an operation in a public hospital.

The 70-year-old former builder depends on walking sticks as he waits for a hip and knee replacement after a lifetime of hard labour.

Mr Tolhurst was placed in the "semi-urgent'' category 2 - which recommends surgery within 90 days - in December 2018 for orthopedic surgery to have a worn-out hip and both knees replaced, and to repair a shoulder injury from a fall.

More than a year later, he is still waiting for a date for his surgery at Cairns Base Hospital, which was redeveloped in 2015 at a cost of nearly $500 million.

"I've had to give up my work and my accommodation, and move in with a friend who cares for me,'' Mr Tolhurst, who lives in the Daintree, told The Courier-Mail.

"I'm in a great deal of pain and have been on many types of pain control, sleeping pills and anti-inflammatory tablets, yet my condition is not considered serious.

"Sleeping at night is a real battle for me, and usually comes from exhaustion, tossing and turning.

"This is unacceptable, pathetic in the 21st century.''

Mal Tolhurst is 70 and has been on public hospital waiting lists and waiting for surgery for many years. Picture: Brian Cassey
Mal Tolhurst is 70 and has been on public hospital waiting lists and waiting for surgery for many years. Picture: Brian Cassey

Mr Tolhurst said he cancelled his private health insurance a decade ago because it was too expensive and he had never been sick.

"I don't know how anyone can afford it on a pension,'' he said.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service wrote to Mr Tolhurst four days before Christmas, confirming that he had been referred to the orthopedic clinic in December 2018 and he had been assessed as a category 2 patient.

"While we are currently not meeting the wait time for this category, the Orthopaedic Clinic continues to implement new models of care to improve wait list reductions,'' the letter states. "I am sorry the Orthopaedic Clinic is unable to offer you an appointment at present.''

Mr Tolhurst also complained to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, and received a letter from the Department of Health last November explaining that "the Australian Government does not have the power to direct the Queensland public hospital system to provide services to a specific patient".

Last July Mr Tolhurst wrote to Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles and received a reply from the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service explaining that the State Government had given its orthopedic department $5.2 million to treat up to 470 extra patients for emergency and elective surgery.

"While we are currently not meeting the wait time for this category, please be assured that every effort is being made to minimise waiting lists,'' the letter says. "Waiting for an appointment is never easy.''

Productivity Commission data reveals that 40 per cent of Queenslanders are waiting between 211 days and 362 days for a knee replacement, with 10 per cent waiting longer than a year.

The wait for a hip replacement ranges from 97 to 352 days, with one in 10 patients waiting at least a year for surgery.



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