If hospital emergency departments were established to treat people in immediate, life-threatening situations they are now where people go when they have run out of options.
“We say units like ours should only be used for emergencies,” says Hamish Hutchinson, a nurse at the emergency department of Waitakere Hospital for the past four years and delegate for the NZNO, “and I agree with this idea, but ED has also become the last resort safety net for our community. If all else fails, at least we are here and someone will hopefully help…This is what underfunding in a healthcare system looks like.’’
When the moment comes that the resuscitation rooms are cleared “and the people who couldn’t breathe are breathing again” Hutchinson often talks to the people sitting in the waiting room. He says it’s frustrating to talk to people in dire health only because they couldn’t get to see a GP: “I talked to one guy recently who couldn’t see his GP for a couple of days prior to the weekend – he didn’t have the money to afford an after-hours consultation either – so what had been a small infection got to the point where he needed a hospital admission. This is often the case and is entirely preventable.”
“The people I work with deal with the most serious cases every day, it’s what we do, we’re used to it, but we shouldn’t have to be dealing with this spill over of people who should expect to be looked after by a properly funded health system, but can’t see a GP. It means that instead of saving lives we are busy fixing the short cuts you get when there isn’t enough money.”
Hutchinson’s comments reflect the findings of study published last week in the New Zealand Medical Journal that found at least one in four adults is unable to get the primary health care they require. A further 9 per cent, almost one in ten, can’t get secondary health care (usually a referral to see a medical specialist) either.
The results are no surprise to Simon Oosterman who for the past three weeks has been travelling the country with the Yes We Care campaign highlighting the impacts of our current level of healthcare funding.
“The new findings on unmet need are appalling but aren’t surprising as they reflect what we’ve been hearing,” he says. “Kiwis who would benefit from surgery are suffering unnecessarily because they can’t get the health care they need when they need it. We have hospitals refusing hip and knee patients a place on a waiting list because they are overweight. It’s ridiculous – they’ve only gained weight, or find it hard to lose weight because they can’t walk.”
Oosterman suspects the study’s findings still don’t reveal the true situation as the estimated one in nine New Zealanders who can’t afford to visit GPs are not included, along with those who aren’t referred by their GP because of the potential stress of rejection.
As part of his effort to force an independent survey to get get a genuine measure of unmet need he invites patients and people working in health can to share their stories on the organisations website at: www.yeswecare.nz/share-your-story