Tsunami of dialysis demand costing NZ millions each year

Leah Panapa 23/11/2021

LISTEN: A major independent report has exposed the government's failure to increase kidney transplant rates as demand skyrockets.

Millions of dollars are being lost to the New Zealand health system each year, as the country experiences a growing tsunami of dialysis demand.

The report conducted by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, on behalf of Kidney Health New Zealand, directly compares the health system cost for a patient receiving kidney dialysis as opposed to a transplant. 

Michael Campbell, general manager of Kidney Health NZ, says access to kidney transplants has become harder.

"There are 460 people currently on the waitlist. However, we think that there's probably another 600 who could benefit from a transplant," he told Magic Talk.

Campbell says you have to meet certain criteria to be put on a waitlist.

In 2019, before COVID, there were 221 kidney transplants in New Zealand and last year there were only 187 transplants made, because of the pandemic.

According to Ministry of Health data, in 2020/2021, 4,440 New Zealanders used some form of dialysis. 

Campbell says a similar report was done in 2012 with similar results.

"We've always known dialysis is more expensive than a transplant, and transplant gives us many more years of life so that whanau can be together," he said.

If recent trends continue, the number of people using dialysis will increase to around 5,700 by 2031/32 – an increase of over 30 percent in ten years. 

This growth represents a substantially increased burden for the health system, the report found.

Dialysis is a costly intervention at approximately $115,712 per year, contributing to $150,878 in total health system costs for dialysis patients in their first year of treatment, compared with $107,361 in our base case for the year of transplantation.

"If someone is given a transplant they can go to work, they can contribute to the economy, the operation costs less and we invest less staff time, which means we have money perhaps to give to Pharmac," Campbell told Magic Talk.

Listen to the full interview with Michael Campbell above.

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