Whanganui DHB and Sport Whanganui launch Fit For Surgery, Fit for Life programme


13 November 2018

Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) and Sport Whanganui have launched a ground-breaking Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life programme to help patients lose weight and improve their fitness levels before elective surgery.

Led by WDHB head anaesthetist Marco Meijer, the programme was developed in partnership with Sport Whanganui and local GPs who came on board very quickly once they saw how well it fits with their message ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Concerned that overweight patients increase the risk of developing medical complications including slow recovery after general anaesthetic, blood clots, breathing difficulties, wound infections and complications with pain relief, during and after surgery, Dr Meijer established a project group to develop a programme that would have long-term benefits for patients.

“The aim of the Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life programme is to bring about a lifestyle change that will see significantly overweight patients reduce their weight and lift their fitness levels for surgery while continuing to maintain these changes for the rest of their life,” Dr Meijer says.

“Hospital staff and GPs refer patients to Sport Whanganui where Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life navigator and registered nurse Christine Taylor assesses the patients and develops individual care plans which include referrals to appropriate services to optimise their health prior to hip or knee surgery.”

Mrs Taylor says she works alongside the patients advocating for them; providing advice and motivation; and referring them to appropriate community support services which might be a dietitian, physiotherapist, Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life activity coordinator Deb Byers or a psychologist.

“In collaboration with their GP, I treat the patients in a holistic manner (which includes considering their medical history and medications), to help them reach their required target weight. This is achieved by improving diet and lifestyle, monitoring their pain and physical statistics, and improving their level of fitness to make them safe for surgery. Patients will be followed up post-surgery for continued support if required,” Mrs Taylor says.

At present the Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life programme is applied to patients who are candidates for elective hip and knee surgery. Dr Meijer says there are plans to roll the programme out for further elective operations in the near future. He says in the three weeks since the programme was launched, close to 10 patients have been referred to Sport Whanganui – a number expected to grow steadily as the programme is extended to other surgical specialties.

An added benefit from this programme is less complications post-surgery, resulting in possible reduced hospital stays. Dr Meijer says ideally, once a patient embarks on the Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life programme it may result in them not needing surgery.

WDHB is aware of one DHB that has a programme called Fit for Life which encourages the general population to adopt healthy lifestyles and another DHB which offers a weight loss programme for patients pre-surgery. WDHB believes it is the first DHB to offer the combined Fit for Surgery, Fit for Life approach.